Why Senate thinks CIDG 8 planned Espinosa killing

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Two Senate committees that probed the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr in a police operation said it was "premeditated" and an instance of "abuse of authority" by operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 8.

In a joint report uploaded on the Senate website on Monday, March 13, the committees said that based on testimonies and documents submitted over the course of several public hearings, police led by Superintendent Marvin Marcos planned the killing of the alleged drug personality to hide their own supposed ties to the drug trade in Eastern Visayas. 

The report was made by the committee on public order and dangerous drugs and the committee on justice and human rights. The Senate adopted the report on Wednesday, March 15.

"The Committees are convinced that the circumstances point out to a systematic 'clean up' made on any living trace that may reveal their involvement in the Espinosa drug trade," read the report. 

In the wee hours of the morning on November 5, 2016, CIDG 8 personnel entered the Leyte sub-provincial jail in Baybay City, Leyte supposedly to serve a search warrant against Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap.

The two supposedly had weapons and illegal drugs inside the jail.

Police claimed Espinosa fought back as they were trying to operate, prompting them to shoot back and kill Espinosa and Yap.

But senators, particularly officials of the committees that led the probe, dismissed that version of the story early on. 

The report pointed out the following:

The CIDG 8 team, in applying for the search warrants against Espinosa and Yap, showed an "intentional and deliberate disregard" for the chain of command in the CIDG. It had been previously established that CIDG chief Director Roel Obusan did not know about the operation. The Eastern Visayas regional chief, Chief Superintendent Elmer Beltejar, was also kept out of the loop. The CIDG team also failed to coordinate with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), a must when it comes to any anti-drug operation. 

The probe also showed that the police had already requested for crime scene operatives even before Espinosa and Yap were killed. The committees also questioned Marcos' apparent presentation of an "erroneous timeline of events."

The report also questioned why Marcos had to be at the scene of the operation and why Chief Inspector Leo Laraga, the team leader, was the one who shot Espinosa himself. 

Reiterating previous assertions made during hearings, the report noted that police did not need to apply for a search warrant since a jail is not a private facility.

The CIDG's asset in the operation – who was the basis for the issuance of a search warrant – also failed to note that just days before November 5, local chief officials had conducted a sweep of the jail cells. Cellphones and chargers were found, but drugs or firearms weren't. 

"What was more apparent based on the circumstances surrounding the operation, was Laraga's application for search warrants with a friendly court outside the jurisdiction of Leyte, in order to clothe their planned 'operation' with a semblance of legitimacy," said the report. 

The report raised the possibility of planted evidence, comparing the official police report and the circumstances surrounding the operation. No illegal drugs or firearms were retrieved during an earlier sweep of the jail, according to testimonies of jail personnel and inmates. The CIDG's asset, it turns out, did not visit the jail on the day he said he did.

Two inmates also said they overheard Espinosa telling police that he did not have a gun and begging them not to plant one inside his jail. 

The report cast doubt on Laraga’s claim about how Espinosa was killed. Citing official autopsy reports, the Senate committees pointed out that Espinosa was shot at close range, possibly with the shooter at an elevation. Laraga claimed he was not able to see Espinosa because it was dark and that he merely shot the gun several times. 

It also found suspicious the "missing" hard drive containing closed circuit television (CCTV) footage taken during the CIDG 8's operation. Jail officials said the CCTV cameras were working fine before the police entered the jail.

"After establishing that the CCTV camera and recorder were properly functioning prior to the raid, it can be inferred that the recorder was taken by the CIDG operatives incidental to the raid," said the report.

Among the joint committees' recommendations include asking the judiciary to hasten its probe into possible sanctions against several judges involved in the case and remind its lower courts "to exercise caution in issuing search warrants."

They also urged the justice department to expedite its probe into the case.

Finally, they recommended that President Rodrigo Duterte avoid "micromanaging" government and trust the "sound discretion" of his appointees, including Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa. – Rappler.com