Leyte

‘Care-win’ posters point to a Kerwin Espinosa run for Albuera, Leyte mayor?

Herbie Gomez

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‘Care-win’ posters point to a Kerwin Espinosa run for Albuera, Leyte mayor?

DRUG CHARGES. File photo of Kerwin Espinosa.

Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Despite his controversial past, alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa appears to be gaining considerable support in Albuera, with many residents asserting that he has reformed

After scoring one legal victory after another, self-confessed drug lord Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa appears determined to follow in the footsteps of his slain father in Leyte, specifically in Albuera town, where his public image is being reinvented.

Speculations about his potential bid for the mayoralty of Albuera have gained traction as posters bearing his photographs have been appearing in the town since early this year.

His posters have been prominently displayed in the town since May, when the town center celebrated its fiesta. Espinosa also appeared in posters alongside village politicians greeting fiesta revelers during smaller barangay fiestas, with the message: “Rolan ‘Care Win’ Espinosa – The one who truly cares.”

The mayoral post was held by his father, Rolando Sr., until November 5, 2016, when he was shot and killed under mysterious circumstances inside a detention cell at the Leyte Sub-Provincial Jail in Baybay City. 

Authorities at the time alleged that the elder Espinosa, who was also linked to the drug trade, and another drug suspect, Raul Yap, were killed. They supposedly resisted while Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) agents were serving separate arrest warrants against them while they were behind bars.

Kerwin’s posters, the “epal” (self-promotion) type, sparked widespread discussion in Leyte about his political ambitions, especially after photos surfaced online showing him meeting with incumbent Albuera Mayor Sixto dela Victoria.

Advertisement, Poster, Adult
CAMPAIGNING? A tarp prominently displayed in Albuera, Leyte shows alleged Eastern Visayas drug lord Kerwin Espinosa alongside a local politician with a fiesta greeting message in May 2024.

Dela Victoria is serving his second term as mayor of Albuera, having been elected in 2019, three years after the killing of Kerwin’s father. 

The mayor has continued to hold the position and, under normal circumstances, is entitled to seek reelection, except that a ruling by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan ordered him barred for life from government service because of his graft conviction. In 2020, the court sentenced him to six years in prison for using public funds to purchase a vehicle without public bidding. 

Talk has it in Albuera that Kerwin is being groomed for the mayorship, likely against a member of the Leyte provincial board.

Kerwin rose to infamy when he was linked to the illicit drug trade during the early months of the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs. He was accused of being an Eastern Visayas drug lord and was named by none other than then-president Rodrigo Duterte himself.

Kerwin Care Win Espinosa
‘CARE WIN.’ A tarp hanging in Albuera, Leyte shows alleged Eastern Visayas drug lord Kerwin Espinosa being portrayed as a caring person, starting speculations about a likely bid for the town’s top post. Rappler sourced photo

Following his father’s arrest, Kerwin left the country but was eventually captured in Abu Dhabi and extradited.

Espinosa was released from detention in December 2023 after posting bail for drug-related and money laundering charges. Despite being acquitted of some charges in previous years, the Court of Appeals (CA) reopened two cases in February.

On June 5, a regional trial court in Baybay, Leyte, ruled in favor of Espinosa’s demurrer to evidence petition in connection with a drug case, effectively acquitting him. Espinosa’s pending cases include two money laundering charges and the revived drug and firearms cases currently under appeal before the CA. 

In 2022, Kerwin retracted all accusations against former senator Leila de Lima, alleging he was coerced into fabricating bribery stories against the former justice secretary and senator. De Lima has since been cleared of two of her three drug charges, and was released on bail in November 2023.

Despite his controversial past, Kerwin appears to be gaining considerable support in Albuera, with many residents asserting that he has “nagbinuotan” (reformed).

Despite indications of a likely run in next year’s elections, no official confirmation has been made, and the final decision rests with Espinosa. Whether he will formally announce his candidacy remains to be seen, but the buzz surrounding his likely political entry continues to grow. – Rappler.com

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.