Duterte on Espinosa killing: 'I believe in the version of the police'

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(CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte is standing by his men. Speaking to the press after returning from official visits to Thailand and Malaysia, the President said he is more inclined to believe the account of the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group on the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa.

Espinosa was killed in his jail cell at the Baybay City Provincial jail after a supposed shootout with police.

"I believe in the version of the police. If they have evidence to prove otherwise, then a case should be filed against the police," the President said during his arrival speech in Davao City following visits to Thailand and Malaysia.

Months earlier, Duterte had linked Espinosa to illegal drugs. Last August, authorities seized ₱88 million worth of shabu and ingredients used for making bombs in a raid at his home. He was arrested on October 5 and was charged with illegal possession of dangerous drugs and firearms

During his arrival speech, Duterte reiterated the problem of illegal drugs in the country. "We have become a narco-politic[al] nation. Many of those [involved in illegal drugs] are barangay captains. Halos lahat. [Almost all of them.]"

"It is my sworn duty to see to it that we do not slide just like the other countries of the world, particularly Latin America," he added.

The President reiterated his support for the police and said that he will be answerable for their actions.

"[A]s I have said before right at the start… I will protect and I will support the police in this drive against shabu."

"If anyone should go to prison, I should be the one. Ako ang nag-utos. [I gave the order.] So I assume full legal responsibility. So if I rot in prison so be it," he added.

Doubts

Members of the PNP-CIDG team testified on Thursday's Senate investigation, they only acted in self-defense when they shot and killed Espinosa. They told senators, Espinosa had fired at them first—using a gun that he somehow managed to sneak into his prison cell.

The PNP-CIDG team had gone to the jail to serve a search warrant on Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap. They went there to search the inmates' cells for firearms and illegal drugs. Yap also died in the ensuing shootout.

During the Senate investigation, senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon questioned the PNP-CIDG's account. They pointed out lapses in police procedure. They also heard testimonies from the jail warden, jail guards, and other inmates who disputed the raiding team's account.

The jail warden, jail guards, and inmates all said that Espinosa was unarmed and no shootout occurred.

Read: Records show Leyte jail raid team called SOCO before going in

Senator Lacson also pointed out that one of the PNP-CIDG operatives had called for a PNP-SOCO (Scene of the Crime Operatives) forensics team even before the raiding team entered the jail.

"Sa affidavit ni PO2 Jennifer Monge, tumawag si Supt. (Santi Noel) Matira requesting for SOCO at 3:49. So para kayong tumatawag ng punerarya, wala pang engkwentro?" he added.

[Translation: According to the affidavit of PO2 Jennifer Mongje, Supt. Matira called at 3:49 a.m. requesting a SOCO team. So it's like you're calling the funeral parlor even though there wasn't an encounter yet.]

Senator Lacson described the policemen's actions as "pre-meditated".