Philippine judiciary

Manila court acquits Kerwin Espinosa of illegal possession of firearms, explosives

Jodesz Gavilan

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Manila court acquits Kerwin Espinosa of illegal possession of firearms, explosives

DRUG CHARGES. File photo of Kerwin Espinosa.

Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Kerwin Espinosa will remain in jail as he is still facing other charges involving illegal drugs and money laundering

MANILA, Philippines – A Manila court on Monday, September 4, acquitted alleged drug lord Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

In a consolidated decision, Judge Janice Yulo-Antero of the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 16 dismissed the case “for failure of the prosecution to prove the guilt of accused beyond reasonable doubt.”

The decision added that the prosecution “miserably failed” to prove that Espinosa was “in effective control and possession over the firearms/weapons and ammunitions, neither was he in actual nor constructive possession of the same.” 

The charges stemmed from an August 2016 police raid on a property by Espinosa in Sitio Tinago, Barangay Binolho, Albuera, Leyte that yielded six firearms and left six bodyguards dead. This was one of the raids as then-president Rodrigo Duterte publicly accused him and his father, the late Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., of involvement in illegal drug trade and trafficking.

The younger Espinosa was abroad when the raid took place and only went back to the Philippines in November 2016. His father was one of the first local officials who “voluntarily surrendered” to the government, but was killed in the same month inside his jail cell in a supposed shootout with police.

The September 2023 decision also noted the recantation of the Albuera mayor’s bodyguard and driver, who said that the firearms seized during the raid were not owned by the younger Espinosa, and that he had no knowledge of the matter.

This is the third acquittal of Espinosa. In June 2023, he was acquitted in a drug trade charge after Makati RTC Branch 65 granted a demurrer to evidence as the prosecution failed to establish elements of the alleged crime to sustain a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. In December 2021, Makati RTC Branch 64 also dismissed illegal drug trafficking charges against him due to lack of evidence.

Espinosa, however, will remain in jail as he was still facing four other cases, including two charges involving illegal drugs in Manila and Leyte, and two money laundering charges in Pasay.

Espinosa was one of the detained individuals who accused then-senator Leila de Lima of receiving drug money. He retracted his accusations in April 2022, saying that “any statement he made against the senator are false and was the result only of pressure, coercion, intimidation and serious threats to his life and family members from the police who instructed him to implicate the Senator into the alleged drug trade.”

De Lima is still in jail more than six years since her arrest in February 2017. –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.