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The police team that killed Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa yesterday failed to convince senators that its raid of the Leyte sub-provincial jail in Baybay City, Leyte was a legitimate operation.
Senators, who attended the joint committee hearing, cited inconsistencies, anomalies, and lapses in the reports and testimonies of those who took part in the police operation last November 5.
“There’s one word to describe this – premeditated,” Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson said, pointing to the “highly questionable circumstances” surrounding the killing of Albuera and drug suspect Raul Yap.
Lacson, chairperson of the public order and dangerous drugs committee, cited the testimony of one team member who called up the Scene-of-Crime-Operatives even before they entered the jail facility.
“Something doesn’t add up. Hindi pa kayo nakakapasok, nag-request na kayo ng SOCO. Ina-anticipate niyo ba na may papatayin kayo?” Lacson asked.
The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8 of the Philippine National Police said it entered the jail facility at 4:30 a.m., almost an hour after the call to SOCO was made.
Supt. Elmer Beltajar, PNP regional director in Eastern Visayas, told the committee that the request was made at 3:49 a.m. based on the log book written by P02 Jennifer Monghe.
Supt. Santi Noel Matira, supervising officer of the CIDG operation, confirmed making the call and asking the SOCO team to come to the jail premises, but did so in response to a report from the team leader that shots were fired.
“Tumawag ako sir, kasi nag-report si Major (Leo) Laraga na may putukan, may kuwan. Pina-confirm ko kung may vital sign,” Matira testified.
On the prodding of justice committee chairperson Sen. Richard J. Gordon, Matira admitted he was inside the jail when the firing happened.
“That’s why I’m asking him (Matira). Lumalabas premeditated lahat ng ginagawa mo kaya tinatanong kita deretsahan. Are you aware na ikaw ngayon ay lalabas na principal by direct cooperation, you’re aware of that?” Gordon asked.
Gordon said that Matira is actually listed in the so-called “payola” or blue book of the Espinosas.
Asked if he has sufficient personal motive to be interested to be part of the operation to “fix” the problem, Matira replied: “Wala po, sir.”
Matira invoked his right to self-incrimination and right to privacy when asked by Lacson to turn over his mobile phone to the CIDG head.
Explaining the time anomaly, CIDG Region 8 chief Supt. Marvin Marcos said they weren’t conscious of the time and only used estimated time in their report. He also admitted neglecting to put on record Matira’s call to the SOCO.
PNP deputy chief for operations Director Benjamin Magalong told senators that the issue on why the SOCO was called prior to the alleged shooting or exchange of gunfire with Espinosa was one of the items they are still clearing with Marcos and the rest of the team.
During the day-long hearing, Laraga admitted that he was the one who killed the mayor but only after they were shot at.
The slain mayor is the father of Kerwin Espinosa, the alleged high profile drug suspect whom authorities arrested in Abu Dhabi and is currently in transit to the Philippines.
Laraga said Espinosa was not the original target of the team. He said an informant, who went to their CIDG office on October 29, told them that Yap was asking for his help to distribute illegal drugs inside the jail. When the informant agreed, he was referred by Yap to a “boss” who would affirm if “it’s okay.”
Laraga said the “boss” Yap was referring to turned out to be Espinosa. He said he supplied the information to Marcos, his immediate superior.
Asked by senators if he shared the information with the PNP regional director or the CIDG chief in Manila, Marcos said he did not. Marcos said he chose not to tell any of his immediate superiors because of “the level of information he received.”
He also defended the team’s decision to secure a search warrant from a judge at the regional trial court in Samar for fear of Espinosa’s connections in the province.
Laraga admitted they also chose not to coordinate with the jail warden because of mistrust.
In the same hearing, CIDG director Chief Supt. Roel Obusan said Espinosa tested positive for gunpowder residue.
However, on Sen. Grace Poe’s questioning, Obusan said he’s not discounting the possibility that the guns were planted and made to fire.
Magalong said it was clear that Marcos’ failure to coordinate with the regional police and jail authorities is a violation of police operations. “I discussed that yesterday with Supt. Marcos. That’s one of the questions I asked him considering that this is a high profile target, it’s a high profile operation. Our protocol is that all commanders should always be informed,” he said.
“Being the regional chief of CIDG Region 8, it is under the operational control of PRO (Provincial Regional Office) 8. In the same manner, the CIDG has a director. Both personalities should have been informed beforehand, even days before when they are still planning the operation,” Magalong said.
Lacson urged the Internal Affairs Service to ensure that the CIDG officials’ testimony would guide them in their probe. “I know you will not cover up. And I entrust you to do your job no matter who gets hurt,” Lacson said.
Aside from Lacson, Gordon, Sotto, and Poe, the other senators who took part in the proceedings were Manny Pacquiao, Leila M. de Lima, Ralph G. Recto, Gregorio B. Honasan, Sherwin Gatchalian, Franklin M. Drilon, and Juan Miguel F. Zubiri. (HANNAH L. TORREGOZA)