Whom to believe?
There is no mistaking the Duterte administration’s animus toward Sen. Leila de Lima—a thorn on the President’s side since 2009, when he was still mayor of Davao City and she was chair of the Commission on Human Rights. So it came as no surprise that drug dealer Kerwin Espinosa’s testimony at the Senate last Wednesday included dramatic allegations against De Lima. But we should also be alert to the possibility that the project to “get” De Lima, whether as alleged protector of the continuing illegal drugs trade in the national penitentiary or as alleged recipient of ill-gotten campaign donations or as alleged immoral woman, has now reached a new turn: It is now also an entertaining show to distract citizens angry over the Marcos burial.
We say this even though Espinosa’s testimony, though flawed, nevertheless raised serious concerns. The question, then, is what is the right balance to take, to appreciate Espinosa’s revelations without falling for the bread-and-circus type of entertainment.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, was among those who quickly saw through local police rationalizations and called the killing of Espinosa’s father Rolando and another inmate in a Leyte jail an execution. He responded to the younger Espinosa’s appearance at the Senate, as the main resource person in the inquiry into the suspicious killings, with an abundance of caution: Saying he had “some doubts as to the veracity of the testimony of Kerwin,” Lacson noted that there were gaps in the drug dealer’s disclosures. “If I were the investigator, I would try to find out what was really true. If you would objectively see it, it’s not really solid as presented by Kerwin,” he said.
De Lima, as expected, attacked Espinosa’s statements about her as fabricated, giving that as her reason for not directly asking him questions at the hearing: “I feel that it would be pointless, useless, futile for me to do so given a very nice script, at least insofar as the portions of his testimony about me are concerned.” Was this a missed opportunity for the senator, or did she opt out of the circus?
But the most serious concerns raised by Espinosa’s testimony actually have to do with his sweeping accusation against police officials. He said he paid protection money to everyone from policemen manning checkpoints to the police officers in charge of Eastern Visayas. Among other names, he said he paid Chief Supt. Vicente Loot, now retired and a newly elected town mayor, P120,000 a month, Chief Insp. Leo Laraga P20,000 a week, Supt. Santi Noel Matira P20,000 a week, and Supt. Marvin Marcos P3 million to fund his wife’s candidacy. All four have vigorously denied the allegations; the latter three were among those involved in the police raid that ended with the killing of Espinosa’s father. (Laraga said it was he who fired the shot that killed Mayor Espinosa.)
These and other revelations provoked the PNP chief, Director General Roland “Bato” dela Rosa, to weep on national television. “I do not know now whom to believe [anymore],” he said. “I place in God the PNP. I love the organization… There are still many policemen who can be trusted.”
As we have argued in this space before, the role of the police in President Duterte’s so-called war on drugs is pivotal. Both the President and Dela Rosa have admitted on many occasions that some policemen were in collusion with or were actually part of the illegal drugs trade. Both the President and Dela Rosa have clearly stated that they fully supported police efforts to stop the drug trade, even to the extent of killing suspected drug “personalities” in the line of duty.
And yet there is no process, there is no clear and nationwide effort, to hold policemen involved in illegal drugs to account. Is it any wonder that, five months into the most lethal antidrugs campaign the police has ever conducted in our history, with well over 4,000 killings reported, Dela Rosa does not know “whom to believe”?
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