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BAYBAY CITY, Leyte – Twenty four policemen stormed the Leyte sub-provincial jail Saturday before dawn, used bolt-cutters to gain entry, and left the facility with two dead inmates, including Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.
The raiders, mostly members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Eastern Visayas, claimed that Espinosa and Raul Yap, the other fatality, engaged them in a shootout.
Jail officials, who asked not to be named, disputed the police version, saying there was no shootout.
Anticipating a full-dress investigation, Leyte provincial administrator Manuel Cordeño has ordered jail officials and personnel to refrain from giving their sides of the story.
The search warrant was signed by a trial court judge in Samar, but was only served at 11 a.m., less than seven hours following the raid, according to a well-placed source.
This explains the use of bolt-cutters to gain entry. It is unclear how many jail guards were present at the time of the raid.
On the way out, the raiders confiscated the USB file of the newly-installed closed circuit television (CCTV), raising suspicion of a possible cover-up.
The raiders, led by Chief Insp. Leo Larraga, have been restricted to their quarters pending investigation.
Espinosa was on the list of politicians and police generals named by President Duterte to be allegedly involved in illegal drugs.
The town mayor motored to Manila to surrender himself to Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Rolando M. dela Rosa last July.
Espinosa promised to help the government in its anti-drugs campaign by turning over his son Kerwin, a suspected drug lord. He later signed an affidavit naming politicians, police officials, and media men under Kerwin’s payroll.
Kerwin’s surrender did not materialize and the elder Espinosa, in the absence of an arrest warrant, was allowed to return home.
However, following the deaths of his lawyer and followers, Espinosa sought police custody and spent two months inside the police station where his room doubled as his home and office.
On October 3, Espinosa was arrested in connection with the raid on his house on August 10 to 11 which yielded illegal drugs and firearms.
He was brought to the sub-provincial jail after his plea to be detained in the police station was denied by Regional Trial Court judge Carlos Arguelles.
His death came weeks following the arrest of his son Kerwin in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He is expected to be extradited soon.
The facility is run by the provincial government and houses 46 inmates at the time of the incident.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno said he would like to know if jail operatives prevented the entry of CIDG agents inside the facility.
Sueno ordered Dela Rosa to investigate the incident, wondering why the warrant was served before dawn and why is there a need to issue one when the mayor was already incarcerated.
How Espinosa and Yap managed to get hold of guns also baffled Sueno.
The police claimed they recovered a .45 caliber pistol and a .38 super pistol from the cells of Yap and Espinosa.
Also found was a small sachet containing suspected shabu and drug paraphernalia inside Espinosa’s cell.
(With reports from Chito A. Chavez) (NESTOR L. ABREMATEA)