Senators hit Aguirre for downgrading charges vs Espinosa slay cops

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators condemned the Department of Justice’s move to downgrade the criminal charges against the policemen involved in the killing of the Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr inside his prison cell.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on public order that recommended murder charges against the cops, urged the Senate to “denounce” the DOJ decision.

Lacson stands by his committee’s investigation and recommendation, which was unanimously adopted by the chamber. (READ: Why Senate thinks CIDG 8 planned Espinosa killing)

On May 29, the DOJ downgraded the  murder charges against  former Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 8 Superintendent Marvin Marcos and his 18 co-accused to the bailable offense of homicide. It also dismissed the malicious warrant charges against them.

The cops walked free after posting bail on June 16.

The 6-member minority bloc is set to file a resolution expressing the chamber’s grave concern about the DOJ’s move. Lacson said he would fully support it.

“I will do so, not based on politics, friendship or anything related to it but solely on truth and justice,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former DOJ chief, said the actions of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II is “anomalous and suspicious” and is an “insult to the Senate” that conducted a probe into the killing.

“The abrupt downgrading of the case against Supt Marvin Marcos and his cohorts from murder to homicide is a big blow to the justice system in the country,” Drilon said.

"This is a very disappointing development insofar as the ability of the government to prevent and prosecute police abuses and irregularities is concerned," he added.

Detained Senator Leila de Lima, also a former DOJ secretary, said the decision was highly questionable.

“How can the DOJ not see and appreciate the presence of the qualifying circumstance of evident premeditation, and even abuse of superior strength, in the execution of such criminal act which bears the hallmarks of summary execution?” De Lima said in a statement issued from her detention cell in Camp Crame.

The National Bureau of Investigation earlier recommended murder charges against the cops involved. The DOJ initially adopted it, only to downgrade the case later on. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier supported Marcos, even ordering his reinstatement.

“Something tells me that the DOJ’s initial adoption of NBI’s recommendation was just for show, a charade, so as to please or satisfy the Senate and the public. The actual game plan though was to downgrade the charges, as done now, and ultimately weaken the case vs. those rogue police officers and men,” De Lima said.

‘Flip-flop king’ Aguirre

Minority senators also slammed Aguirre for changing his tune.

Drilon pointed out that Aguirre, during the Senate investigation, had said that the killing of Espinosa qualifies as a “premeditated killing” and that it was “unusual” that an arrest warrant was served at past 4 am.

"Secretary Aguirre told us under oath here in the Senate that he himself considers the killing as premeditated. He even pointed out that the conduct of Espinosa’s arrest was not consistent with the PNP's procedures," he said.

"It begs now the question: Why did the DOJ suddenly reverse its earlier decision,which was supported by ample evidence? Why not allow the court to determine if it’s murder or homicide?” Drilon asked.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, for her part, said Aguirre should be stopped from tinkering with the country’s justice system.

As he downgraded the charges against the policemen, Aguirre also did the same with his “reputation and integrity” before the public’s eyes, the senator said.

"From being the fake news king of Padre Faura, Secretary Aguirre is also now immortalized as the DOJ's flip-flop king, a would-be absolver of murderers," Hontiveros said.

“This is an obvious attempt at a cover-up through an unabashed flip-flop. It is an act of impunity to cover up another act of impunity," she added. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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