Mr. President, fellow members of this august chamber, this representation has the honor to report on the Senate floor the result of the inquiry, in aid of legislation, conducted jointly by the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs and the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, into the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr. of Albuera Leyte, as embodied in Committee Report No. 46.
Mr. President, running on a platform of eradicating illegal drugs and capturing big-time drug dealers and protectors, then candidate Rodrigo Roa Duterte had won the May 2016 presidential elections.
Upon his assumption of office, he launched a relentless war against drugs. A few months after, this war has become a hotbed of controversy. The absolute discretion granted to the Philippine National Police (PNP) in delivering the President’s campaign promise was exploited, even abused by some police scalawags.
Mr. President, allow me to commence this report by quoting President Duterte himself: “Abuse your authority and there will be hell to pay. For you will have become worse than criminality itself.”
The integrity and conviction of his words will be put to test when what is at stake is not only the career but also the liberty of a certain Supt. Marvin Wynn Marcos and other members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 8 whom we have all seen during our public hearings.
Mr. President, on November 5, 2016, while alone inside his prison cell in Baybay Sub-Provincial Jail, Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. was killed in an alleged shootout with the operatives of the CIDG Region 8 in the course of implementing a search warrant. ‘Nanlaban at napatay’. Default justification na ho ata yan sa lahat ng drug related killings na laman ng ating mga balita.
Mr. President, the fact that an incumbent mayor had fallen in this war against drugs is controversial enough. As we dig through the facts and consider other reports, we discovered that what was shown before us is more intricate and complex than what was then presented.
Although this Joint Committee recognizes and gives due respect to the authority of the courts to determine whether the death of Mayor Espinosa was a result of a legitimate police operation or a case of premeditated murder, we are convinced that the circumstances of this case clearly present a systematic “clean up” made on any living trace that may reveal the involvement of several CIDG operatives in Kerwin Espinosa’s drug trade. After all, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
Apart from Mayor Espinosa, other persons connected with the drug trade of Kerwin Espinosa in Region 8, namely, Edgar Allan Alvarez and Fernando Balagbis suffered the same fate while incarcerated. Mr. President, the odds of being killed by the PNP while detained inside a government detention facility seemed to be very unlikely, until now. Further, it is unbelievable that such similar fate would befall on personalities involved in Kerwin Espinosa’s drug trade.
Mr. President, this Joint Committee has found compelling reasons, based on evidence, to overturn the presumption of regularity accorded to the implementation of the search warrants conducted by the team of PSUPT Marvin Marcos, PCI Laraga, and other CIDG personnel together with members of the Regional Maritime Unit.
Mr. President, this Joint Committee has conducted three public hearings and one executive session regarding this inquiry. I beg your indulgence as I discuss briefly the basis of our conclusion that the killing of Mayor Espinosa was not a result of a legitimate police operations but rather, a case of premeditated murder.
1. Notwithstanding the guidance of no less than the Supreme Court when it said that “a citizen’s privacy right is a guarantee that is available only to the public at large but not to persons who are detained or imprisoned,” the CIDG personnel maliciously obtained a search warrant in a court outside Baybay City to clothe the operation with an appearance of legitimacy.
2. The search warrant was issued by the judge after relying on a deposition of a certain Paul Olendan whose allegations were proven to be false. Said deponent was around 100 kilometers away at the time he claimed he was inside the cell of the victims to see their firearms.
3. None of the statements contained in the affidavits executed by the jail guards and the inmates could corroborate the allegation of facts and the details presented by PSUPT Marcos and PCI Laraga on how they implemented the search warrants.
4. Instead of seeking assistance during the implementation of the warrant, the CIDG-8 personnel made the jail guards and PNP personnel in the jail facility kneel down, face the wall and surrender their firearms.
5. The CIDG’s blatant violation of the rule that law enforcement officers cannot go beyond the area specified in the search warrant in terms of the area to be searched. The search warrant could not be more clear, the area to be searched were Cells No. 1 and 2. However, the operatives proceeded to and searched Cell No. 7 just because Raul Yap was actually detained there.
6. The intentional and deliberate disregard for the chain of command in the PNP-CIDG when PSUPT Marcos did not notify his immediate superiors, PCSUPT Elmer Beltejar, PRO-8 Regional Director; and CIDG Director Roel Obusan of the operation against a high-profile detainee in the person of Mayor Espinosa.
7. The illegal items reported in the inventory after the search were merely planted by the CIDG team in order to justify their operation. Mr. President, This Joint Committee has accorded value to the affidavits submitted by the jail guards and inmates stating the previous conduct of Oplan Galugad by the jail guards a few days before the CIDG operation which yielded no illegal firearms and drugs. In addition, we considered the testimony of two inmates stating that they heard Mayor Espinosa telling the CIDG operatives that he did not have any firearm in his possession and pleaded them not to plant the same inside his cell.
8. The incredible narration of PCI Laraga on how he was able to fire at Mayor Espinosa notwithstanding the alleged total darkness in his cell. To be more detailed, according to him, he was able to aim his gun properly after taking advantage of the spark coming from Mayor Espinosa’s gun when he initially fired at his team.
9. The erroneous timeline of events presented by PSUPT Marcos in his accomplishment report and his testimony during the public hearings. According to PSUPT Marcos, the operation began at 4:10 a.m. However, we have on record the affidavit of PO2 Jennifer Monge stating that at 3:49 a.m., SUPT MATIRA called the PNP RTOC Regional Tactical Office 8 requesting for the assistance of SOCO.
10. The hard drive containing the recordings of the CCTV cameras inside Baybay Sub-Provincial Jail which went missing immediately after the CIDG team had full control over the penal facility.
Finally, Mr. President,
11. The testimony of Kerwin Espinosa in one of our public hearings confirming that he gave considerable amounts of money to the leaders of the CIDG operation subject of this inquiry. In fact, PSUPT Marcos had received a sum of three million pesos just last May 2016.
Mr. President, allow me to go back to a few of my questions on my opening statement when this inquiry was commenced:
“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.”
Truly, up to now, there is no sense to it.
Mr. President, after a thorough consideration of all the testimonies and documents submitted, let me tell you and everyone closely following this case, hindi po nanlaban si Mayor Espinosa.
Mr. President, Mayor Espinosa, in his possible willingness to cooperate and provide information on the personalities involved in his son’s drug trade, was silenced by individuals who wanted their participation concealed. It just so happened that these individuals had access and means to do so through abuse of their authority. Moreover, his death posed a clear threat to his son, Kerwin Espinosa, who was already captured and was on his way back to the Philippines at that time. The death of Alvarez, Balagbis and even his father while inside their respective penal institutions is a statement that Kerwin is not safe anywhere and that the same fate awaits him should he decide to speak up and provide the information that will aid the PNP in its war against illegal drugs.
At this point, Mr. President, allow me to present the recommendations of the Committee on Public order and Dangerous Drugs and the Committee on Justice and Human Rights:
First of all, Mr. President, let us be reminded that the public hearings conducted do not in any way intend to overstep the authority and jurisdiction of our courts in the determination of the Espinosa and Yap case. However, as co-equal branch, we will request the Judiciary to expedite its determination as to the propriety and liabilities or sanctions, if any, of the following:
1. JUDGE CARLOS ARGULLES, for his failure to act upon the motion of MAYOR ESPINOSA to be transferred to a safer prison facility, notwithstanding the fact that the deceased has expressed his intention to fully cooperate with the government and provide vital information relevant and of value to the administration’s war against illegal drugs;
2. JUDGE TARCELO SABARRE, JR. of RTC Branch 30 Basey, Samar for issuing search warrants upon persons detained in a government detention facility located outside his court’s jurisdiction; and
3. JUDGE JANET CABALONA of RTC Branch 33, Calbiga, Samar, also for issuing search warrants upon persons detained in a government detention facility located outside her court’s jurisdiction.
Moreover, the Supreme Court should remind lower courts to exercise caution in issuing search warrants. Strict adherence to the policy that “judges should personally examine the applicant and the witnesses he may produce,” with underlying emphasis on the words “personally examine,” should be observed.
Next point, Mr. President, we understand that the Espinosa case was filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) as early as December 07, 2016. Three months had passed and no resolution yet is forthcoming on the preliminary investigation being conducted. Considering the time, not to mention the overwhelming testimonial and documentary evidence presented before the five-man panel conducting the preliminary investigation, they should have already resolved this matter with urgency. As such, we respectfully request the DOJ to expedite its proceedings given that this case is impressed with public interest.
In addition, Mr. President, among the intricacies that arose out of this case was the recall of PNP CHIEF DELA ROSA’s order relieving PSUPT MARCOS and his men from CIDG-8 by no less than the President himself. This Joint Committee is of the opinion that the President should not be micro-managing the affairs of the government and should place his trust in the sound discretion of his appointees, including PNP CHIEF DELA ROSA. In so far as the organizational and operational aspect of the PNP is concerned, the Chief should be given full authority and control on how he will manage the day-to-day affairs of the organization subject to limitations set by law.
Mr. President, the following are the proposed legislative measures that are responsive to the issue at hand:
1. The amendment of Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code to increase the penalty for false testimony or perjury. It is our view that the damage or injury caused by perjury upon an innocent person is no less similar to that of planting of evidence. Apart from the possibility of being charged and erroneously convicted, we also have to consider its effect on the reputation of the victim and his or her family.
2. The enactment of an “Anti-Contraband in Prison Act” penalizing those who would provide, assist, aid or abet in the introduction of any prohibited object or contraband inside a prison facility, along with the inmate who makes, possesses or obtains or attempts to make or obtain the same inside the prison facility; and imposing a stiff penalty for its commission.
3. The strengthening of the functions and mandate of the Internal Affairs Service (IAS) of the PNP so as to make the disciplinary system more timely, transparent and efficient. To be more specific, we seek to expand the motu propio investigation powers of the IAS to cover all acts and omissions, which tend to discredit or subvert the achievements of the institution. Moreover, for purposes of expediency, investigations should be conducted within a mandatory period not exceeding 30 days after the case has commenced, and immediately thereafter, appropriate case/s shall be filed. Accordingly, the IAS should reach the resolution of the case within 30 days at most after the same has been filed.
Finally, Mr. President,
4. We should look into and assess the foundation of police training in our country. So as not to waste the resources of the government in re-training and re-orienting erring police officers and to instill the right culture, values and discipline expected from our uniformed personnel, it is incumbent for us to review and amend the law creating the Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) either by strengthening it or by transferring control over training from the PPSC to the PNP.
Mr. President, before I end this report, allow me to express my strong condemnation on the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr. and Raul Yap. Though they may have committed violations of our existing laws, the same is to be determined by our courts. Granting that certain freedoms are denied to detainees, including the right to privacy, they are still entitled to the fundamental right to life as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Mr. President, this war against drugs has reached unparalleled heights that will be remembered as part of our nation’s history. What we have at the moment is a race against time, where we either succeed or fail in exposing the truth. Though it seems that the end is nowhere in sight, today we emerge victorious for exposing these rogue uniformed personnel. We may have won the battle today, yet we still have a war to emerge triumphant. Let today be a testament that “No man in this country is so high that he is above the law. No officer of the law may set that law at defiance with impunity.”
Thank you very much, Mr. President.