News commentary by Raïssa Robles
Yesterday, a police general wept as one of the most wanted men implicated a whole raft of senior police officers and the same senator in the hyper lucrative illegal drugs trade.
The back-to-back testimonies of self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and Ronnie Dayan – the former driver-bodyguard-lover of Senator Leila de Lima – proved to be more riveting and sordid than prime time telenovelas.
But beyond titillating a nation, both testimonies raise very serious questions about the truth and President Rodrigo Duterte’s “drug war”.
Kerwin Espinosa dated his five meetings with Dayan in late 2015 to February 2016. But today, Dayan insisted in his testimony before the House that he only met with Kerwin four times and these all took place in 2014 because he said that by February 2015, he and Leila de Lima had split up. Congressman Alfrdo Garbin, Jr. was the first to stress these differences in Kerwin’s and Dayan’s testimonies.
Both cannot be telling the truth.
One way to test who is lying is to ask Kerwin to produce the cellphone number of Dayan and the calls he and Dayan made to each other, if indeed they had ever done so. Because Dayan has a different description of the arrangement. He told the House committee that he “never” ever communicated directly with Kerwin. Dayan said only De Lima had phoned Kerwin in all their meetings together.
I found Kerwin’s testimony highly intriguing. During his testimony yesterday, the 38-year-old entrepreneur of illegal substances was the exact opposite of Edgar Matobato, 57, the hired assassin who turned whistleblower. In HIS testimony before the Senate months ago, Matobato looked everyone in the eye, including the police officers he had implicated in extrajudicial killings. Kerwin for the most part kept his head down and his eyes averted.
Matobato implicated President Rodrigo Duterte in a heinous crime. Kerwin did the same with Philippine opposition senator Leila de Lima. And yet Kerwin’s testimony, and the cascade of events that it could yet trigger, has more potential for damaging Duterte’s “war” on drugs.
First, Kerwin denied that a “blue book” or “pink book” ever existed. This was the “blue book” that Albuera town police Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido had earlier crowed about. The police claimed they seized the blue book from the house of Kerwin’s late father, Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr., three months ago. Albuera police chief Espenido claimed the “blue book” identified Senator De Lima and even actor Richard Gomez as getting protection money from Kerwin.
Before Kerwin’s testimony yesterday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre indicated that he believed Inspector Espenido’s version of events. Aguirre even hinted to the media that Kerwin would name Senator De Lima.
“Talagang may posibilidad dahil dun sa kanilang blue book at pink book na ginawa ng mag-ama ay talagang number one si De Lima na protector ng mga drug lord at drug-related activities. Hindi ako magugulat kung itong si Kerwin ay i-reiterate niya yung nasa affidavit ng kanyang ama.”
The last thing that Justice Aguirre, Chief Inspector Espenido, and fellow Chief Inspector Leo Laraga (who had earlier admitted firing the fatal shot that killed Kerwin’s father) probably expected was that Kerwin would accuse both officers on national TV as having extorted protection money from him in the millions of pesos.
Was Kerwin merely avenging the cold-blooded execution of his father by these two policemen? At any rate in his testimony he named many other police officers allegedly involved in illegal drugs.
Philippine National Police Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa had reason to weep yesterday. He confessed that it was he who had assigned Chief Inspector Espenido to the post of Albuera police chief. De la Rosa told Senator Migz Zubiri: “Your Honor, I cannot blame the public if they are losing trust and confidence in their police because I myself, sabi mo nga, di mo na nga alam kung sinong pagkatiwalaan.”
By saying that, De la Rosa had unwittingly put his finger in the heart of the drug problem. The main problem is not the number of drug addicts in the country. The main problem is the corruption in the police force and the local governments – the policemen, mayors and other officials who look the other way or profit from drug deals.
If Kerwin was telling the truth yesterday, the message he brought home to the nation was that some of the officers who are now conducting “Oplan Tokhang” are the very same officers who are part of the drug networks. Oplan Tokhang is the Duterte government’s program to knock at every door of alleged drug addicts, drug lords and traffickers and tell them to stop, physically surrender to the nearest authorities and admit wrongdoing.
In other words, Oplan Tokhang which seems to target mainly drug addicts, is the wrong way to stop the drug menace because the number of drug addicts in the country is not the main problem. The main problem is the dirty cops and local officials who are secretly part of the illegal drugs industry – the same enforcers who are doing the knocking on the doors of the alleged addicts.
Since Duterte assumed office nearly five months ago, the same dirty cops have been freely running around using “Oplan Tokhang” to kill or intimidate potential witnesses.
Yesterday, even Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre agreed with Senator Franklin Drilon (a former Justice Secretary himself) that the killing of Kerwin’s father was “premeditated” and an “overkill”. In other words, it was a form of extra-judicial killing.
The problem is that Aguirre’s boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, seems to have cleared the police in the Espinosa killing of any wrongdoing. Two weeks ago on November 11 – even before a preliminary investigation was conducted – Duterte said:
“Let me state my case as the Chief Executive of the Executive branch. I believe in the version of the police. They have evidence to prove otherwise, then a case should be filed against the police.
But as I have said before, right at the start, very early on sa administration ko, I will protect and I will support the police in this drive against shabu.”
The police had told the media that they killed Espinosa inside his jail cell during a firefight.
Yesterday, the Senate committee headed by Senator Richard Gordon learned that the probe on the Espinosa killing had hardly moved in the Philippine National Police Internal Affairs Service (IAS), which investigates all killings by policemen, whether or not done in the line of duty.
Was PNP-IAS afraid of issuing a decision that would contradict Duterte? Or just plain overwhelmed by all the cases of cop killings?
Just recently, President Duterte waved in front of reporters a very thick folder that he said contained names of drug lords and their coddlers in and out of government. How many of these names were contributed by dirty cops?
Region 8 – where Kerwin said he once operated a drug network – is not even in the list of most drug-affected regions.
Senators could perhaps get to the bottom of this drug menace by conducting hearings on the most affected region – Metro Manila or the National Capital Region. Who are the Kerwin Espinosas of NCR?
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I have been asked what I thought of Senator Leila de Lima.
Whether or not she is a drug protector it is very obvious that she has balls of steel.
She has been publicly shamed and called an “adulterer” and drug protector. She has been insulted here and abroad by no less than President Duterte.
Is she innocent or guilty?
I would have believed Ronnie Dayan, if only his dates matched with those of Kerwin Espinosa. Kerwin was more detailed. Dayan’s testimony was on the whole vague. He claimed he did not know that Kerwin was a drug lord or that De Lima was getting payoffs.
I am still waiting for direct evidence that would pin De Lima down. For instance, bank records or direct testimony from sources who would not benefit from testifying against her. Unfortunately, all those inmates who testified against her at the House hearing would benefit from having testified against her in the form, perhaps, of shortened jail sentences or faster parole or even presidential pardon.
It was in their interest to implicate De Lima. In contrast, it was not in Matobato’s interest to testify against Duterte.
It is of course within the realm of possibility that De Lima had received drug money for her election campaign. Just as she admitted to “frailty” as a woman for having an affair with her driver/bodyguard, she could have succumbed as well to getting easy money.
However, there is one thing that bothers me about Duterte’s accusation against De Lima. Long before all these allegations were raised about her involvement in illegal drugs De Lima had investigated Duterte for the spate of extra-judicial killings in Davao City.
At that time, she was the Philippine Human Rights Commission chair appointed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Duterte was Arroyo’s presidential adviser on heinous crimes.
The fact was that killings were taking place in Davao City where Duterte was the mayor. United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston even came to the Philippines in 2007 to conduct an inquiry over possible state-sanctioned killings. In the process, Alston also looked at what was happening in Davao.
So De Lima was really not the only one looking into those killings. However, she was the lone Philippine official who dared to call Duterte out on those killings in 2009. This was during administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who had appointed De Lima to the CHR post.
And that gives Duterte plenty of personal motive to destroy De Lima.
To read about De Lima’s probe of Duterte, read this story – Duterte fires back at CHR over Davao killings