MANILA, Philippines – It was an odd question to ask during a hearing that specifically dealt with the spread of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
Magdalo party list Representative Gary Alejano, during the House of Representatives’ NBP probe on Thursday, November 24, quizzed Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa about another issue hounding police – the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr at the hands of police who were trying to serve a search warrant against him inside jail.
Alejano, who once belonged to the uniformed service as a Marine captain, zoomed in on the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 8 officers who had served the warrant against Espinosa, who was in jail for violating the country’s illegal drugs and firearms laws.
“You’re aware na buo silang inassign doon (You’re aware that they were assigned there as a group)?” asked Alejano, referring to a group of officials headed by former CIDG 9 chief Superintendent Marvin Marcos.
Dela Rosa, who has headed the PNP since July 1 this year, said he was aware and eventually instructed the PNP’s Directorate for Personnel Records and Management (DPRM) to reassign them to the CIDG office in Region 8.
They were officially moved there mid-July, weeks after Dela Rosa began his term.
Dela Rosa's orders
“Then I called up [CIDG director Chief Superintendent Roel Obusan] na yung mga taong ito ay ilagay sa CIDG Region 8 (to tell him to place these people in CIDG Region 8),” added Dela Rosa.
It was Marcos who approved and supervised a CIDG 8 operation to serve a search warrant against the late mayor inside the Leyte sub-provincial jail in Baybay town. (READ: Senate probe: Poorly-written script in Espinosa killing?)
Another officer, Chief Inspector Leo Laraga, was the one who led the team inside the jail. Laraga also shot Espinosa himself, supposedly because the mayor fired the first shots against police.
The operation has been the subject of a Senate probe.
While the police officials who conducted the operation insist it was legitimate, Senators have labeled it a “premeditated” operation to execute the late mayor. Espinosa is the father of Kerwin, who supposedly led the illegal drugs business in Eastern Visayas.
Espinosa was among the first local chief executives to be named publicly in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. From being evasive from local police, Espinosa later said he would cooperate with authorities and even issued two affidavits pinning down politicians, police, and other officials who supposedly received “protection money” from his son.
The affidavit is now being disputed by his son, who was arrested in Abu Dhabu and was flown back into the Philippines mid-November.
Marcos and Laraga, according to Kerwin Espinosa, were among the many Leyte cops who received money from him in exchange for “protection.”
The two junior police officials have denied these allegations.
But it turns out, Dela Rosa had an idea about their involvement too.
"Intel" reports had indicated that Marcos had a suspected history of involvement in illegal drugs. It's unclear why Dela Rosa still chose to approve their assignment to Leyte, however.
Speaking to Rappler after the hearing, Alejano said he had earlier received “information” about Marcos and the CIDG 8 team, noting that it was “irregular to assign them as a group.”
The former Marine captain, who was once part of a failed plot to oust former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said it could only mean that Marcos and his subordinates were assigned to Leyte because they were on a “mission.”
He said they likely got “instructions” from higher ups, but he did not specify who these were.
Alejano also pointed out that Espinosa wasn’t the first case of a high-profile drug personality killed in Leyte. “It’s not just Espinosa who was killed,” the lawmaker said.
When asked who recommended Marcos and his term for reassignment to Leyte, Dela Rosa played coy.
“Secret,” he told reporters after the hearing.
When pressed for an answer, Dela Rosa added: “They don’t need a recommendation because all of them are my men.”
The PNP chief, who spent most of his career in the Davao region, said he had never worked with Marcos or his men previous. Both Marcos and Laraga hail from Leyte and were assigned there previously.
The two young officers and their men are currently under restrictive custody at Camp Crame, as the investigation into the Baybay city operation takes place. Asked if he would confront the person who recommended Marcos and his team, Dela Rosa gave an unclear answer.
“May sabit sila so may sabit rin ako kasi ako ang chief PNP, mananagot rin ako ([Marcos and his men] are in trouble so I will also be accountable as chief PNP),” he said. – Rappler.com