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MANILA, Philippines - While senators smell murder, President Duterte believes the police story that Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa was killed in a shootout in his jail cell.
“Let me state my case as the chief executive of the executive branch: I believe in the version of the police,” Duterte declared yesterday in Davao City after arriving from his two-day visit to Malaysia.
Duterte said he is ready to take “full legal responsibility” and go to jail if necessary to protect the lawmen in carrying out his orders.
“If anybody should go to prison, I should be the one. I assume full legal responsibility. If I rot in prison, so be it,” the President said.
Duterte said he stands by his earlier statements that he is ready to protect policemen doing their job in the campaign against illegal drugs.
He made the statement even after senators described the killing of Espinosa as “premeditated.”
“If they have evidence to prove otherwise, then a case must be filed,” Duterte said.
Sources said the Office of the Ombudsman is now conducting its own investigation into the killing.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has formed a panel of investigators to look into the killing of Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap.
Espinosa was killed in his cell in the sub-provincial jail in Baybay City in the early hours of Nov. 5 after he allegedly tried to shoot it out with lawmen from the regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) who were serving a search warrant.
Yap was also killed in another cell in a supposed shootout with the CIDG policemen.
During last Thursday’s hearing, senators listened to the CIDG version of securing the search warrant and the procedures taken in the actual operation at the Leyte provincial jail in Baybay City, but several irregularities were noted.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs which conducted the inquiry, led the senators in saying the killing was premeditated, stemming from a badly written script.
Duterte, whose administration has been anchored on the campaign against drugs and criminality, said he is ready to take full legal responsibility in cases involving cops who were charged in the process of his full-blown anti-drug campaign.
“Natural utos ko yun eh (Of course, I ordered it). The fight against drugs is mine,” he said.
“So this is actually mine. Do not focus on the police. Just wait for their explanation. Just wait for their version,” the President said.
“In the meantime, if you run out of people to blame, look at me because I was the one who ordered the war against drugs,” he said.
Duterte also gave assurance he would protect the military in the war against drugs.
“Same, they will have my protection and I assume full, legal and any responsibility,” he said.
Duterte said the police should focus on carrying out his orders to fight criminality and illegal drugs to the fullest.
“I pushed the police to the limit. As a matter of fact, if anybody should go to prison, I should be the one. I assume full legal responsibility,” he stressed.
“I said if I lose the presidency, if it means going to jail, fine. What is important to me is my word of honor to the nation.”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President’s statements should be taken in the context that law enforcers are doing their duties in regularity.
“Whatever the official report will be, it will be taken up – basically he will go with the results of the investigation,” Abella said. “Let us just allow the process to unfold.”
Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald dela Rosa agreed with Abella.
He said everything will come to light after an investigation into the highly controversial issue has been completed.
Dela Rosa, however, admitted he had the impression that the CIDG wasn’t being entirely forthright at the Senate investigation.
“I haven’t seen the entire proceedings but it seems to me the CIDG is hiding something,” he said.
After being apprised of the initial result of the investigation into Espinosa’s killing, Dela Rosa said he immediately ordered the relief of the CIDG policemen involved in the shooting and had them transferred to the holding center in the PNP headquarters. – Michael Punongbayan, Jaime Laude


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