The killing last month of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, and his fellow inmate Raul Yap inside a Leyte provincial jail is the most brazen incident of murder perpetrated by police officers in recent memory.
Espinosa and Yap were killed by a group of 24 policemen led by Supt. Marvin Marcos allegedly because they resisted the serving of a search warrant; they purportedly engaged the police in a shoot-out, and guns and illegal drugs were found in their possession, all while they were in their prison cell.
Some among us are of the opinion that Espinosa deserved to die because he was a big-time drug lord. He may have been so, but it is as clear as day that he was killed, not because he was a drug lord, but because he was in a position to identify policemen and politicians who partner with drug lords in spreading illegal drugs in the country.
The justification given by Marcos and his cohorts that Espinosa wielded guns inside his prison cell and engaged policemen in a firefight is ridiculous. It portrays the prison guards as clueless fools who were completely unaware of the danger to their lives posed by a gun-wielding prisoner. It also portrays Espinosa as a suicidal nincompoop who challenged policemen to a shoot-out even if he had nowhere to hide in his cell.
Prior to his detention, Espinosa voluntarily surrendered to PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa at Camp Crame. From his demeanor then, Espinosa feared for his life and those of his family members. The pressure he certainly felt could have easily made him tell all and name names. It is so apparent that he was murdered to prevent his exposé of government officials involved in the trade in illegal drugs.
President Duterte deserves condemnation for declaring that he would not allow Marcos and company to be jailed, notwithstanding the finding of the National Bureau of Investigation that they committed murder. Mr. Duterte also made a grievous error when he claimed that the police killings enjoy a presumption of regularity. The Supreme Court has long ruled that police killings do not enjoy such a presumption and that policemen can be convicted of murder or homicide if they cannot prove that the killing is justified by facts.
If the policemen involved in the murder of Espinosa are not subjected to an unbiased investigation and trial, it will amount to a blanket license for all policemen to engage in a killing spree without fear of liability.
Policemen can treat the six years of the Duterte administration as an open season for killing, and they can go on a daily shooting rampage without dread of accountability, even far worse than what is happening now. After each kill, they only need to recite the magic mantra “Drug lord/addict, nanlaban!” and the Duterte administration will install halos of purity over their heads, with no questions asked.
This issue of whether the involved policemen should stand trial or should be immediately cleared of liability brings the country to the metaphorical forked road.
If we allow Superintendent Marcos and his cohorts to go unpunished, this country will take the road where police killings will become even more brazen and shocking. The killings will get so much worse along this road because the example of a protected Marcos will embolden rogue policemen to use “Operation Tokhang” as a means to perpetuate their criminal activities.
On the other hand, if we exert sustained protest and campaign to compel the prosecution of Superintendent Marcos and his cohorts, our country will go down the other road where fear of retribution will be instilled in the hearts and minds of policemen who are predisposed to criminality.
There is now a fast-increasing number of Filipinos who are angry and disgusted at the killings done by policemen and their masked assassins riding tandem on motorcycles. It will be a terrible mistake for President Duterte to ignore this rising anger. He does so at his own grave peril.
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