Leyte exec urges protection for innocent from wrongful accusations

LEYTE, Philippines – A Leyte official implicated in an alleged list of drug protectors but later cleared by the supposed source of the information, called for reforms that would help protect innocent people from wrongful accusations.

Baybay City Vice Mayor Michael Cari made the call on Wednesday, November 23, after alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa testified before a Senate inquiry that he and other Leyte officials are not among his alleged protectors in government, contrary to the affidavit executed by his father, the late Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.

“I do feel vindicated. I’m happy but I’m not overjoyed because I’ve been innocent since my name appeared in that affidavit," Cari said shortly after Espinosa cleared him and other Leyte officials of drug links at Wednesday's Senate hearing on the death of Mayor Espinosa.

Cari said that even after being cleared, the "damage" has already been done. He said "substantial reforms" are needed to reduce the chances of such wrongful accusations in the future.

"Mas makakatulog na ako ngayon ( I can sleep better now). I’m glad my name is cleared.  But the damage has been done to me and to my family and it can’t be taken away,” he said.

Other Leyte officials earlier tagged as protectors of Espinosa but later cleared by the latter are Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla, Vice Governor Carlo Loreto, 3rd District Representative Ching Veloso, and Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez.

Petilla, Loreto, and Veloso had earlier issued separate statements denying the allegation. Espinosa corroborated their denial when who told the Senate panel on Wednesday that there was no "blue book" – a notebook supposedly containing a list of recipients of Espinosa's “protection money, which included the Leyte officials.

Mayor Espinosa had cited the blue book as the source of his son's alleged government protectors, whom the late mayor named in his affidavit. (READ: Kerwin Espinosa: 'No blue book,' dad's signature in affidavits forged)

'Best defense vs slander'

Loreto, for his part, said the best defense against slander is the truth.

“I am happy that I have been finally cleared from the issue. This has been a vindication of my name and we are glad that the truth has come out,” he said.

Loreto said that “it was just a matter of time for the truth  to come out."

"But the public clamor in social media and the Senate investigation hastened the surfacing of the truth," he added.

Loreto thanked his family, friends, and supporters, adding that the allegation against him proved to be a "test of our nerves and the strength of our friendships."

The vice governor also thanked Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, for initiating the investigation into the death of Mayor Espinosa "and for demonstrating once more that even in these crazy times, chivalry and honor still exist."

"Clearing our names was just the beginning.  We should not end there.  We need to pursue the criminals and big syndicates behind the drug menace," Loreto said.

The vice governor also paraphrased a famous quote from US president Thomas Jefferson in line with the Duterte administration's war on drugs: "The tree of liberty requires blood to grow.  Well, so much blood has been spilt. It is now time for the tree to grow again." (READ: IN NUMBERS: The Philippines' war on drugs) – Rappler.com