Preliminary Statement for the Inquiry in Aid of Legislation on the Death of Albuera town Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.

Good morning.

I would like to welcome everyone to the joint public hearing of the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs and the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, with reference to the manifestation and motion made by Sen. Vicente Sotto III last November 7, 2016, tasking your Committee to investigate and inquire, in aid of legislation, into the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. of Albuera, Leyte.

To the members of our country’s police force and everyone present, let me remind you of the following: To serve and protect. The responsibility of every police officer is to serve the public and respect life and property. No police operation shall be conducted in order to serve or protect the illegal activity of a particular person, group or criminal syndicate. 

If that sounds familiar, yes, that is Rule No. 1 in the PNP Manual of Operations.

The killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. is not a simple case of “nanlaban at napatay” like the ones we wake up on every morning as we watch and listen to the morning news. To set the tone of this inquiry, I need not to beyond the purview of the circumstances surrounding the Espinosa killing and the preceding events that transpired after his surrender last Aug. 2. I refer to the details of several other personalities connected to Roland “Kerwin” Espinosa, also known as Jake Pacana, Kerwin, Boss K, Lege, and of course, the late father Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.

Let me identify them one by one and the fate they suffered:

EDGAR ALLEN ALVAREZ, allegedly one of Kerwin Espinosa’s three major sources of illegal drugs, died last August 11, 2016. Alvarez was shot dead inside a Leyte prison during an ongoing police operation conducted by the CIDG Region 8.

ATTY. ROGELIO BATO, lawyer of Mayor Espinosa. He died on August 23, 2016. He was killed due to multiple gunshots fired at him by unidentified men while driving. Also died together with him inside the vehicle was ANGELIKA BONITA, 15 years old, fourth year high school student of Sagkahan National High School.

POLICE CHIEF INSPECTOR HESUS SON, 45, assigned at RPHAU, PRO-8, killed by unknown assailants using long firearms and riding in a maroon utility vehicle last Sept. 16, 2016, in Barangay Pilit, Sta. Fe, Leyte, while on his way home driving his Isuzu Crosswind. Reports from PRO-8 indicate that the killings of Bato and PCI Son were related and perpetrated by the same group.

ANNALOU LLAGUNO, ex-wife of Kerwin Espinosa. She died October 1, 2016, shot in the head from behind by an unknown attacker.

FERNANDO BALAGBIS, alleged member of the Espinosa drug trade. He died last October 29, 2016. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds in an alleged shootout with police operatives who raided his cell pursuant to a search warrant issued based on a suspicion of drug trade inside prison.

And then of course, MAYOR ROLANDO ESPINOSA SR., father of alleged top drug lord in Eastern Visayas Kerwin Espinosa. He died last November 5, 2016, together with fellow detainee RAUL YAP, also in an alleged shootout with CIDG operatives serving a search warrant issued based on a suspicion of illegal possession of firearms and drug trade.

Our people and probably most of the members of the committees present here today find it difficult to accept or even grasp the PNP CIDU 8’s version of the story. The committee therefore requires the PNP to report on the status of the above cases.

Foremost in our minds is, why would Mayor Espinosa even attempt to put up a fight while he was trapped inside a prison cell with nowhere to go, not to mention that he had surrendered and was fully cooperating, hoping to become a state witness? Nothing makes sense.

With that as our working premise, the following questions beg for answers:

1. What necessitated the application for a search warrant when Mayor Espinosa was already locked in a cell and under the custody of the government? And what are the contents of the search warrant, the deposition of witnesses, etc.?

2. Why was it necessary to serve the search warrant against a detained person at past 3 a.m.?

3. Was there sufficient prior coordination with the jail warden before the warrant was served? The text message was received by the RTOC, the Tactical Operations Center, at 4:26 a.m. of Nov. 5, 2016.

4. Is there truth to the reports saying that the raiding team disarmed the four provincial policemen tasked to secure Mayor Espinosa and even asked them to kneel and face the wall? In addition, why were the inmates except for Raul Yap, the other fatality, told to transfer (away) from Espinosa’s cell?

5. What specific cell was the target of the search warrant? Cell No. 1, where Mayor Espinosa was detained? Cell No. 7, where Raul Yap and five others were staying? Or Cell No. 2?

6. Was there proof that Mayor Espinosa and Raul Yap actually fired at the operatives during the service of the warrant?

7. Why is the hard drive of the CCTV missing? Who removed it? Isn’t it logical to think that the reasonableness of the force used by the operatives could easily be justified if the CCTV footage is available?

8. Is it true at least one member of the raiding team is listed in the so-called payola or blue book of the Espinosas? If so, why was he made a member of the raiding CIDU 8 team?

9. Why would the raiding party read or serve a search warrant to two dead persons but earlier ignore the plea of the jail warden to be shown the same? Even assuming the two were alive during the reading or formal serving of the warrant, who had control of the jail facility, the prisoners of the warden?

The death of Mayor Espinosa obviously affects the probative value of his sworn statement revealing the names of the ones on top of our country’s drug trade, particularly their protectors. The imminent deportation of Kerwin Espinosa must be given utmost attention and security concern by this government, if it is really sincere and serious in breaking wide open to identify those in government who benefited from his drug-dealing activities. I’m telling you, there are people who are currently in touch with him as he awaits his repatriation back to the Philippines. These are individuals to whom he has already validated several names in his blue book. The list includes recipients of campaign contributions in the recent 2016 national and local elections. Therefore, unlike his late father, the Albuera mayor, he must live to tell his story.

As a former Chief PNP and an incumbent legislator, it worries me to think that the Filipino people might lose faith in the police, our justice system, even the entire government, that police operations, judicial intervention or even plain and simple government transactions will be presumed irregular, tainted with corruption and motivated by personal interest, and that the presumption of regularity in the performance of duties will be reduced to mere concepts found on textbooks.

It disgusts me to even think of the glaring possibility that people given the privilege to be of service to the public have molested the integrity of our established institutions. In the words of U.S. social activist F. Jessop:

“To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours, and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the rest.”

Let the Senate be the bully pulpit to ferret out the truth in this investigation. Having said that, let us proceed with this inquiry.