MANILA, Philippines – The policemen barged into the provincial jail in Baybay City at around 4 a.m. and forced their way at gunpoint past seven guards who demanded to see a purported search warrant.
The members of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) proceeded to the cell where Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa was detained.
As four police escorts of the CIDG team stood by, Espinosa begged for his life.
“Ayaw gyud ko ninyo plantere, sir, wa ko armas nga gitago (Please do not plant evidence sir, I’m not hiding any firearms),” Espinosa was heard saying before gunshots rang out. Moments later, he lay dead, along with an inmate in an adjacent cell, Raul Yap.
Closed circuit television footage of what the CIDG team claimed was an armed encounter with Espinosa and Yap is missing. But Leyte provincial jail warden Homobono Bardillon yesterday detailed what he described as the final moments of Espinosa and Yap.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) grounded the CIDG team yesterday pending an investigation of the killing.
Bardillon said the jail guards tried to prevent the CIDG team from entering the jail premises because no search warrant could be produced.
“They heard gunshots fired inside the cell of Espinosa where the slain mayor was begging (for his life) from the CIDG operatives,” Bardillon said.
He denied allegations that he colluded with the jail guards and the slain inmates.
Bardillon said the four policemen whom he did not identify and were tasked to accompany the CIDG team simply stood there.
“They could do nothing but simply observe. Otherwise, malaking gulo (it would spell big trouble),” Bardillon said.
Espinosa’s daughter Maricar said they were expecting him to join the family on Christmas.
She called on the government to get to the bottom of her father’s death.
“Despite the disaster we have been experiencing in the family, we are still hoping for real justice for the death of a helpless father, who was murdered while behind bars,” she said.
Maricar also urged the government to provide security for her brother Kerwin.
The PNP announced the grounding of the CIDG team yesterday.
“On orders of the CIDG director, they are directed to stay in their respective offices to make themselves available for any queries (about the raid) from competent authority who has official interests in the case,” PNP spokesman Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos said.
Carlos said the order covers all the CIDG Eastern Visayas policemen who took part in the operation before dawn Saturday led by Chief Inspector Leo Laraga.
CIDG director Chief Superintendent Roel Obusan appointed Senior Superintendent Ramon Rafael, lawyer Virgilio Pablico and SPO1 Rudy Gahar to investigate the killing of Espinosa.
The CIDG claimed Espinosa had tried to shoot it out with the policemen who were serving a search warrant for drugs and guns.
Laraga claimed they were forced to fire back after they were shot by Espinosa and Yap, who were in separate cells.
Laraga said they applied for the search warrant after an informant revealed Espinosa and Yap were dealing in illegal drugs from inside the jail.
The informant added Espinosa and Yap had firearms stashed somewhere inside their cells, Laraga said.
CIDG regional director Chief Superintendent Marvin Marcos defended his men, saying they were forced to kill the two detainees in self-defense.
Marcos said they are ready to face a probe.
“Yes, we are willing to submit to any probe and cooperate,” he said. “This is also an avenue for us, especially… the CIDG operatives who served the search warrant to clear their names and the CIDG of course. Speculations will not help in the investigation; let’s await the results of whatever investigation may come.”
Marcos also denied earlier reports that the CIDG raiding team confiscated the CCTV video in the jail that could show the supposed firefight.
“That is a blatant lie... why should we get and destroy a vital facility which is not ours?” Marcos said.
Carlos said the PNP probe would focus more on finding out if the CIDG team observed the proper procedure in serving a search warrant.
Officials said the probe would also look into possible collusion between jail guards and inmates to get guns and drugs into the jail.
Eastern Visayas regional police director Chief Superintendent Elmer Beltajar said they were not notified by the CIDG of the operation in the provincial jail.
Beltajar ordered the regional PNP Internal Affairs Service to conduct the probe.
Leyte provincial police director Senior Superintendent Franc Simborio also ordered a thorough investigation, focusing on possible collusion among the jail guards. – With Non Alquitran