MANILA, Philippines – Senators were one in concluding that the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside his detention cell was premeditated.
From the securing of a search warrant by the regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to the procedures taken in the actual operation at the Leyte provincial jail in Baybay City, several irregularities were noted during yesterday’s inquiry into the incident.
“There’s one word to describe this: premeditated,” said Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, which conducted the inquiry.
In a sequence of events presented by Supt. Marvin Marcos, the CIDG regional director, Lacson noted the 19-man raiding team was able to enter the provincial jail at around 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 5, forcing their way through the gates with a bolt cutter.
CIDG acting director Chief Supt. Roel Obusan, citing his initial findings on the incident, said the raiding team had to use force because the jail guards broke the key and left a portion of it inside the lock.
On the side of the jail guards, they claimed the person opening the gate accidentally broke the key when he was fumbling to unlock the gate.
Marcos’ report jumped from 4:30 a.m. to 5:58 a.m. when the police Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) arrived to investigate the crime scene.
What caught the attention of the senators was when Eastern Visayas police director Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar revealed there was an earlier call made by Supt. Santi Noel Matira to the Regional Tactical Operation Center (RTOC) at around 3:49 a.m. requesting for the SOCO to proceed to the provincial jail.
Since Marcos claimed the raiding team, which he was part of, was able to go in the jail only at 4:30 a.m., Lacson said it was highly unusual for Matira to call for the SOCO team even before Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap, were killed.
“You haven’t even entered and you requested for SOCO already. It was as if you called for a funeral even before the encounter,” Lacson remarked.
Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon said it was quite obvious the killing was premeditated, noting that at least two calls were made to the RTOC, at least 40 minutes before the supposed firefight broke out inside the jail.
“It was a bad script,” Drilon said.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said all the signs point to the killing of Espinosa being premeditated. What is still unclear to him is who ordered the killing.
Sen. Leila de Lima, whose name was allegedly in the list of personalities linked to the illegal drug activities of the Espinosas, also believed the killing was premeditated.
Sen. Grace Poe noted the various inconsistencies in the testimonies of the CIDG, which also gave her the sense that the killing was premeditated.
“They had planned for the encounter way in advance to go through the trouble of applying for a warrant when in fact the mayor was already locked up in a government facility,” Poe said.
Several senators questioned the procedure taken in applying for the search warrant as well as the necessity of doing this at all.
Drilon pointed out it was unnecessary for the CIDG team to apply for search warrant because the subject of the search was already in jail.
He explained search warrants are required under the law to protect an individual against unreasonable searches and seizures and his right to privacy.
Since Espinosa was in jail, Drilon said he had lost that right within the jail cell.
He added that searches of jail cells are conducted regularly without the need for a warrant.
Drilon said the only purpose for the CIDG team to apply for such warrant was “to give the color of legitimacy” to their operation.
Sotto also questioned why the CIDG applied for the search warrant at the regional trial court of Samar, instead of Leyte.
Chief Insp. Leo Laraga, leader of the CIDG raiding team, said this was not entirely unusual and there was a compelling reason to do this.
Laraga said there were several politicians from Leyte who were involved with the Espinosa drug group and because of their influence in the province, they did not want to risk exposing their operation by applying for the warrant in Leyte.
Citing social media reports and the affidavit allegedly executed by Espinosa, Laraga said Baybay Vice Mayor Michael Cari, Ormoc Mayor Richard Gomez, Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso and Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Petilla were all linked to the Espinosa drug group.
Laraga claimed Espinosa was not the main target of the operation of his team but Yap who, according to an informant, was trying to sell drugs from his jail cell.
The informant was allegedly told to go to Espinosa, when he saw the mayor with a .45 caliber pistol.
After being so apprised, Laraga said he relayed this information to Marcos, who approved the operation against Espinosa and Yap.
Laraga admitted he was the one who shot Espinosa.
Upon the prodding of Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto, Laraga admitted he did not coordinate the operation with the warden of the Baybay jail before entering the premises even though this was a requirement in the warrant.
Marcos also admitted he did not coordinate with his superiors, particularly with Eastern Visayas police director Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar and Obusan.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Deputy Chief of Operations Benjamin Magalong said the operations involving high profile targets should be relayed to all commanders.
“Both personalities should have been informed beforehand, even days before when they were planning their operation,” Magalong said.
“They should have coordinated with and informed his commanders. They should have specified their roles, mission and objective. Everything should be very clear, especially the instructions laid out in the search warrant,” he added.
Magalong said Marcos and his team violated the police standard operating procedures and the conditions set by the judge in the warrant.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa ordered the relief of the 24 policemen involved in the raid.
Aside from the 18 policemen of the regional CIDG, Dela Rosa also ordered six operatives of the Eastern Visayas Regional Maritime Unit (RMU) relieved and sent to the PNP Holding Center in Camp Crame to face investigation.
The relieved police officials include Matira, Laraga, Senior Insps. Eric Constantino, Fritz Blanco and Marcos.
A senator, who declined to be named, said Marcos has a lot to answer for given the fact that his relative, journalist Lalaine Jimenea, was in the list of names allegedly involved in illegal drugs provided by Espinosa. Jimenea is a correspondent for The STAR in Leyte.
The senator said that it was highly questionable for Marcos to take part in the operation when his relative was allegedly involved with Espinosa.
Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido, Albuera police chief, said he was the one who assisted Espinosa in executing his affidavit.
Espinosa’s older brother Ramon recently claimed his brother did not prepare the affidavit and was just made to sign a prepared document.
Espenido said De Lima was in the list and her involvement was confirmed by Espinosa’s son Roland Kevin, who allegedly saw her on two separate occasions.
The first was at Burnham Park in Baguio City where De Lima and Mayor Espinosa’s other son, Kerwin, talked for several minutes.
Mayor Espinosa himself confirmed that he saw De Lima personally at a restaurant in Dampa along Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City where Kevin said P8 million in cash was delivered to her.
Also in the affidavit of Espinosa was Matira, who had an entry under the name of “Sir Atiram.”
De Lima denied knowing any the Espinosas and receiving any money from them.
She argued it was clear that the people who prepared the affidavit did their research on her and cited the times when and the two places where she was definitely present. – Jaime Laude