Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr. of Albuera, Leyete, was killed in what the Philippines’ Criminal Investigation and Detection Group claimed was a police shootout.
But President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday defended the officers involved, stating that he will not allow policemen behind the killing go to prison.
The accusations by the National Bureau of Investigation, the equivalent of the FBI in the United States, raised concerns that the incident was part of Duterte’s controversial drug war, which has left more than 5,100 people dead in just a little over five months, Agence France-Presse reported.
According to the NBI, officers allegedly fatally shot 54-year-old Mayor Espinosa and his cellmate Raul Yap, when they were defenseless in a provincial jail cell in November.
“After conducting an exhaustive investigation of the incidents surrounding the killing of Mayor Espinosa and Yap, the NBI concluded that the testimonies of several witnesses had disputed the claim of an alleged shootout between the (police) operatives and inmates Mayor Espinosa and Raul Yap but (was) a ‘rub out’,” the bureau said in a statement.
The local expression “rub out” refers to the police killing a suspect and then saying he died in a shootout.
“The pieces of evidence, both testimonial and the forensic evidence all agree. We believe we have a very strong case,” said NBI deputy director Ferdinand Lavin.
He added that the bureau recommended murder and perjury charges against 24 officers for their involvement in the killing, including CIDG Region 8 chief Superintendent Marvin Marcos, who the president recently reinstalled.
Police from the CIDG said they went into Espinosa’s jail cell to execute a search warrant, claiming what ensued was self-defense shooting.
Espinosa, who was arrested in October on drug and gun possession charges, allegedly was armed and had methamphetamines stored in the cell, police said.
In a speech made Wednesday, Duterte pledged never to let a member of law enforcement to land in jail for prosecuting his war on crime.
“I will not allow these guys to go to prison, even if the NBI says it was murder. After all, the NBI is under me, the Department of Justice,” he said in both Tagalog and English, according to ABS-CBN News.
“We mayors, congressmen, who do we believe — the police or a criminal?” the president added in Tagalog.