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Duterte won't abandon Marcos, et al despite NBI findings they murdered Espinosa

Supt. Marvin Marcos appears at the Dec. 5, 2016 Senate hearing on the Mayor Espinosa killing. PHOTO BY MONG PINTOLO, PHIL. STAR
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MANILA - (UPDATED) The Department of Justice created Wednesday a 5-man prosecution panel against 28 cops led by CIDG Region 8 head, Supt. Marvin Marcos, for the Nov.5 murder of Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa, but President Duterte affirmed support for the policemen, saying he would "not allow" them to go to jail.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre signed the order creating the panel, a day after the National Bureau of Investigation released its report on the killing by Marcos' team of the Albuera town mayor, declaring it a "rub out." The NBI dashed the police claim that Espinosa and cellmate Raul Yap drew guns on them as they served search warrants on their cell at the Baybay sub-provincial city jail at dawn Nov. 5, 2016.

The NBI had said the grounds - Espinosa and Yap had guns and drugs in jail - cited by Marcos' team for getting the search warrant were dubious. In the first place, lawmakers had questioned the need for a search warrant to check on inmates kept in a city jail.

Addressing the military troops at the change of command ceremony of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Wednesday afternoon, Duterte boasted he did not intervene with the NBI's work when it was probing the policemen over the Espinosa killing, but made it clear he would not let the NBI bury Marcos.

The NBI report is expected to jibe with the conclusion of a parallel investigation by the Senate public order committee, whose head, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, had said Tuesday he could not conceive of the NBI ending up with any other conclusion, given the evidence and testimonies.

At his committee's first hearing on the Espinosa case, Lacson, a former PNP chief, had pointed to several details that evinced, he said, a clear "premeditation" in the Espinosa killing.

But at the AFP change of command rites, Duterte, referring to the CIDG-8 team whose version of the Nov. 5 killing he had backed earlier, said, "I will not allow that [guy] to go to prison. Maski na sabihin ng NBI..." but insisted he will not interfere with the work of the NBI and the DOJ. 

For his part, PNP chief Ronaldo dela Rosa said they will respect the NBI report, but once the case reaches the courts, the PNP will fight to at least bring down the charges to homicide.

Mandate of DOJ panel

Meanwhile, the 5-man DOJ panel formed to prosecute Marcos et. al will be chaired by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Alejo.

The panel members are Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevillas, Assistant State Prosecutors Jinky Dedumo and Karla Cabel, and Prosecutor Moises Acayan.

Aguirre tasked the panel to conduct the preliminary investigation of the murder charges the NBI filed against the accused policemen.

The panel was also tasked to consolidate all investigations on the cases recommended by the NBI.

If there is probable cause, the DOJ said the panel will file the charges in court against the accused police officers.

Duterte's words damn him - Trillanes, de Lima

Meanwhile, two senators - Antonio Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima - weighed in on Duterte's latest defense of the CIDG-8 group of Marcos, with Trillanes saying it could indicate Duterte was the mastermind.

De Lima said Duterte has once again demolished the virtue of accountability by coddling erring law enforcers.

However, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who had openly cited during his own Senate panel's hearings on the Espinosa killing the abundant details indicating "premeditation," would not go so far as tag Duterte "mastermind" and cautioned Trillanes about such hasty judgment. Solid evidence must be ready to prove such a suspicion, Lacson said.

In an interview, Trillanes said this - possibility he had ordered the rubout -  could be the reason for Duterte's saying that he will not allow the policemen embroiled in the Espinosa murder to rot in jail.

Yung statement nya na 'yan ang nagpapatunay na siya ang mastermind sa pagpatay ni mayor Espinosa kasi konektado: sya yung tumawag nung pag pa reinstate at ito nga inaarbor niya  to make sure na yung taong inutusan nila ay hindi makulong. Maganda yang statement na yan kasi that’s going to be used as an evidence against him [Duterte's statement indicated he's the brains because it's connected: he was the one who called to reinstate Marcos to his post at CIDG-8, and now he's saying he won't let these guys go to prison. That statement is good, it can be used against Duterte],” Trillanes said.

A case of conspiracy to commit murder can be lodged against Duterte before the courts when he's no longer president, as the prescription in the filing of such a complaint is 20 years, Trillanes said.

De Lima for her part said Duterte’s latest statements are bordering on impeachability.

Both De Lima and Trillanes share the view that an alleged conspiracy to silence Espinosa could not have been confined to the level of Supt. Marvin Marcos as regional head of CIDG for Eastern Visayas.

“It’s a betrayal of public trust because it’s his [Duterte] duty to enforce the law. And part of his duty to enforce the law is making sure that those who are responsible for committing crimes are being made accountable. And part of his duty to enforce the law is to respect the Constitution, including the separation of powers. It's the court that must determine guilt; he cannot preempt the court," de Lima said, speaking partly in Filipino.

A possible conspiracy to silence the Albuera town mayor was boosted Monday by the testimony at the Lacson hearing  by the widow of Chief Insp. Jesus Son, who was ambushed in September. His widow told senators Marcos may have the motive to kill her husband for refusing his supposed order to find a hitman to kill Espinosa in exchange for P500,000. De Lima said such a big fee offered for supposed assailants could not have come just from Marcos.

“So it has to be somebody higher. Kaya nga kailangan i-pursue talaga yung angulo na yan, and then yan na naman, mga ganyang salita, these are circumstantial evidence. These are indicative of that angle na baka nga may kinalaman siya sa pagpatay,” she said.

“Now, why would he [Duterte] be defending [Marcos]?" de Lima asked. The President's acts are posing a serious problem for rule of law, she added. "How can there be accountability for these EJKs if the President himself keeps on shielding these law enforcers? Without even waiting for the verdict, he quickly pardons. In this case, the NBI has just filed a complaint, and already he is pardoning them. That’s tantamount to pardon--he has quickly cleared them. And that’s not even his duty because the duty belongs to the judiciary, to the courts. So that's bordering on impeachability,” De Lima said.

“That’s really impunity, out and out impunity. Brazen impunity. That’s why they have a lot of explaining to do in regard to [Duterte calling PNP chief dela Rosa] to reinstate Marcos,” she added.

“Precisely, based on the investigation of NBI, this is clearly a rubout, but this President ina-arbor niya at gumagawa sya ng sarili nyang story so in effect sya ang nag o obstruct sa administration of justice,” Trillanes told reporters.

Both are hoping the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Lacson will stand firm in its initial findings that the Espinosa killing was a “premeditated act.”

'Covering up for cops bad for Duterte'

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Gordon, Lacson's co-chair in the Senate inquiry on extrajudicial killings, warned the President.

“I told him you will fall on your own sword kung puproteksiyunan mo ang kamalian ng pulis [if you keep covering up for the misdeeds of the police],” Gordon said.

Meanwhile, Lacson is playing prudent: “I’d rather wait for the findings ng DOJ (Department of Justice), of the prosecutors. The NBI just submitted a law enforcement investigation. It will now go through a preliminary investigation, which will determine if there is probable cause or not. If the probable cause is gone, then maybe we could say the DOJ was influenced by the President's remarks or it got guidance or a direct order." But, he said, right now it's premature to conclude anything based on just the President's remarks.

‘Encouraging impunity, violation of law’

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said Duterte’s statement “encourages impunity and the blatant violation of the law,” and was “unacceptable as it is dangerous.”

Duterte’s insistence on giving Marcos and his men “presumption of regularity” despite the NBI’s findings sends the message “that no policeman who has killed a drug lord, no matter how questionable the circumstances may be, will go to jail under his watch,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said. “This has been interpreted by the police as a license to kill with impunity.”

“This cannot go on. The President must stop making such pronouncements that are taken as policy statements,” he added.