From murder to homicide
What exactly is going on at the Department of Justice? In the midst of the latest controversy to engulf it — namely, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre’s sensational accusation that Senators Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes and a few others took part in a clandestine meeting in Marawi City that he said could have led to the war now raging there, for which he apologized to Aquino and to the Alonto and Lucman families that he also implicated — the department has made a baffling turnaround by downgrading to homicide the charge of murder that it earlier recommended against a group of policemen.
And not just any bunch of cops, but the 19 officers of the law who were indicted for the apparent execution, gangland-style, of Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. of Albuera, Leyte, and his fellow inmate Raul Yap right inside their cell at the Baybay Subprovincial Jail on Nov. 5 last year.
In a May 29 resolution written by Justice Undersecretary Reynante Orceo, the DOJ granted the petition filed by Supt. Marvin Marcos — the officer who led the raid on Espinosa’s cell — and his subordinates that the charge of murder against them be downgraded to the lighter, bailable crime of homicide. Orceo’s justification? “Complainants’ version that there was a rubout as the victims were unarmed cannot be given much weight as both of them were armed and fired their guns when the respondents implemented the two search warrants.”
But in fact this version of events has been soundly debunked by the National Bureau of Investigation and the Senate committee that separately looked into the incident. The NBI and the Senate committee agreed that the incident had all the trappings of premeditated murder. Marcos and his men had the motive, first of all: Espinosa, earlier tagged by no less than President Duterte as the biggest drug lord in the Visayas, had drawn up an affidavit naming 226 individuals, among them politicians, judges and cops, as being linked to the drug trade. Marcos and several officials of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Eastern Visayas were among those who received protection money from his operations, according to Espinosa.
The details of the incident also indicated a well-planned rubout. The policemen moved in on the Baybay precinct at the startling hour of 4 a.m., supposedly to serve an arrest warrant on Espinosa — who had already been incarcerated for a month in the station — for drugs and illegal possession of firearms. The cops on duty testified that they were herded at gunpoint into one corner away from Espinosa’s cell, from where gunfire was heard minutes later. Leyte provincial jail warden Homobono Bardillon said Espinosa was heard begging for his life moments before the shots; the mayor was subsequently found with a gun and a packet of shabu by his side—dead from shots to his head, chest and stomach.
The DOJ initially agreed with the NBI’s findings and recommended the indictment for murder of the 19 policemen. But, in a turn of events that inevitably raises blaring questions, it has now reversed that decision, embracing the policemen’s official account that Espinosa was armed and had shot it out with the cops — despite contrary testimony by witnesses.
The precinct’s CCTV could have shed light on what really transpired, but it is said that Marcos’ men disabled and confiscated the equipment and footage. Strangely, the DOJ appears to have exerted no effort to demand the return of this crucial piece of evidence, or to even ask for its whereabouts. Orceo’s resolution makes a blanket assertion that both Espinosa and Yap “were armed and fired their guns…” and on that basis, the charge against the cops who killed them should only be homicide. But where is the proof to back the policemen’s claims? Where is the CCTV?
And why is the Department of Justice making this turnaround?
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