Cops eclipse De Lima in Kerwin Espinosa's Senate testimony

Among these, he said, is now Daanbantayan, Cebu Mayor Vicente Loot, a retired police general who used to be deputy director for Region 8, and Chief Inspector Leo Laraga, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group officer who admitted to shooting dead Espinosa’s father, the late Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando, Sr. early this month in what the CIDG Region 8 claims was a shootout inside his cell in the Baybay City sub-provincial jail.

Mr. Loot was one of the five police generals publicly named by President Rodrigo R. Duterte as alleged drug protectors soon after he assumed office.

Appearing before Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate committees on public order and illegal drugs and on justice and human rights, which are conducting a probe into the death of the late Albuera mayor, Espinosa said he began paying off policemen in Region 8 after he resumed dealing drugs in 2011, two years after he was released from the National Bilibid Prison on an earlier drug conviction.

Before beginning his testimony, Espinosa sought legislative immunity. Public order committee chairman Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, on the motion of Majority Leader Vicente C. Sotto III, said the panel would seek the approval of Senate President Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III.

Mr. Laraga, said Espinosa, was the one who collected the P120,000 monthly he gave to Mr. Loot, who was deputy director for administration of Police Regional Office 8 from late 2010 to December 2012, when he was appointed director of the Training Service in Camp Crame.

However, Mr. Espinosa said, only P100,000 of this was for Mr. Loot. The balance went to Mr. Laraga.

In 2015, Mr. Espinosa also claimed he paid off a “General Dolina,” then Region 8 police director, P6 million in three tranches in February 2015, first a check for P3 million and then checks for P2 million and P1 million in the succeeding two weeks. The payoff to Dolina was allegedly facilitated by Victor Espina.

Early into his testimony, after he had first mentioned the name Dolina, Mr. Lacson asked Mr. Espinosa for the first name of the general because there are two who share the family name, one of them named “Greg.”

Although Mr. Espinosa said he could not recall the first name, news reports from the period show the Region 8 police director in 2015 was Chief Superintendent Asher Dolina.

He also named a number of Ormoc City police officers who received payoffs from him, including Senior Inspector Rio Tan and a Major Abordo, who both received P15,000 weekly. Mr. Abordo’s take, however, increased until it reached as much as P80,000 monthly in 2014 when he was assigned to the Regional Special Operations Group.

Mr. Espinosa said he began his involvement in narcotics as a small time dealer in 2004 in Cebu City buying 3.5 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride or “shabu,” which he would repack into several sachets of 0.8 grams that he would retail for a small profit.

However, he was arrested the next year and locked up at the Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center, where he met the late Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz, who was killed in a shootout in Metro Manila earlier this year and who he said introduced him to drug deals from behind bars. It was here, he said, where he also came to know of another major supplier, Lovely Adam Impal, who allegedly lives in Makati City, with whom Diaz dealt with.

Mr. Espinosa said he also began dealing drugs from jail, his operation growing until he could dispose of 50 grams and eventually a kilo of shabu periodically.

Detailing his dealings from jail, Espinosa said he started as a “downline” distributor for Diaz.

“Downline ako ni Jeffrey Diaz hanggang (I was a downline of Jeffrey Diaz until) 2011,” he said.

Mr. Espinosa said he would get drugs on consignment from both Diaz and Impal through their respective couriers outside jail. The drugs would then be distributed to his network in Leyte and, after giving them their share of the proceeds from sales, he would remit what he owed to Diaz through a certain Ryan Diaz in Cebu City and Impal by depositing the funds to a bank account.

Wala akong hawak na pera sa loob ng kulungan pero nakaipon ako ng P1.5 million, ngunit nasa labas hinahawakan ng tao kong si (I never held any money inside jail but I made P1.5 million, although this was held for me by) Melvin Gervacio,” he said.

After he was sentenced to life on the drug charges, Espinosa was transferred together with Diaz to the National Bilibid Prisons where, he said, “isang lider ng Sputnik ang kumausap sa akin, kasi gusto nila akong i-recruit (a leader of the Sputnik [gang] talked to me, saying they wanted to recruit me).”

At the NBP, Mr. Espinosa came to know convicted Chinese drug lords Eugene Chua, Tony Co and Peter Co and a former policeman named Durano, with whom he transacted shabu for distribution in Eastern Visayas.

He said his consignment from Peter Co alone ran to four to 10 kilos, which he paid for through after-sales bank deposits.

Mr. Espinosa said his people and Peter Co’s would sometimes conduct transactions in the parking lot of the Metropolitan Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila, where drugs would change hands.

The drugs would then be transported by land to Leyte, often hidden inside the spare tire of the vehicles used by Espinosa’s men or, at times, wrapped in towels or simply stowed in their luggage.

But Mr. Espinosa pulled off a surprise when he told the Senate inquiry that he did not have a so-called “blue book” or a “pink book,” which authorities earlier claimed he and his father used to list down the names of the persons in their drug network or protecting their trade.

Wala akong blue book, uulitin ko, wala po akong blue book kasi iilan lang sa Region 8 ang protector ng droga. Ilang pangalan lang ang paikot-ikot diyan sa Region 8 (I do not have a blue book, I repeat, I have no blue book because there are only a few in Region 8 who are drug protectors. A few names that just rotate in Region 8),” he said, referring to the police officers in the region who he paid off to protect his trade.

Mr. Espinosa was returned to the country late last week from Abu Dhabi where he had been arrested and detained early last month.

Days before his return, his father, Mr. Espinosa, Sr., was killed in what the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Region 8 (CIDG8) claimed was a shootout inside his cell at the Baybay City sub-provincial jail.

However, subsequent accounts by jail authorities and other inmates tended to indicate that the mayor and another prisoner, Raul Yap, may have been executed.

The mayor left two draft affidavits in his wake, implicating actor-politician Richard Gomez, Representative Vicente S. Veloso (Leyte, 3rd District), Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominico L. Petilla, and Baybay Vice Mayor Michael L. Cari in the drug trade.

Espinosa, in his testimony, claimed documents presented as his father’s affidavits were fake as the signatures are not his. He practically cleared the politicians in his father’s alleged affidavit when he said he had no involvement with them.

Mr. Veloso at the outset of the hearing read a statement which in part challenged his inclusion in the affidavit.

Leilani Trinidad L. Villarino, a lawyer for the Espinosas, likewise testified that the affidavits were signed without her presence. “I should be there because I was his [Espinosa, Sr.] lawyer,” she said.

Kerwin Espinosa, in his affidavit submitted to the Senate, implicated CIDG8 Chief Superintendent Marvin Marcos — whose men conducted the raid that led to Mayor Espinosa’s death — saying that he had previously given Mr. Marcos P3 million to fund the election campaign of his wife.

Tinawagan ako ni Col. Marcos at sabi niya doon kami sa Zeelan Hotel,” he said, adding that he went there with his father and driver. “Personal na ibinigay ng papa ko ang perang nagkakahalagang P1.5 million kay Col. Marcos at naghiwalay na din kami pagkatapos. Ang kapalit noong pera ay para hindi i-neutralize ang mga tao namin sa eleksyon dahil hot spot ang aming lugar… sa kalahatan ay P3 million lahat ang natanggap niya.”

(Col. Marcos called me to meet at the Zeelan Hotel. My father personally gave him P1.5 million and we parted ways afterwards. The money was for the protection of our people because our town is a hot spot…. All in all, he received P3 million in total.)

Espinosa said Mr. Marcos, in turn, advised him about the barangay checkpoints to avoid.

Responding later in the afternoon to Espinosa’s accusations, Mr. Marcos said while his wife did run for vice-mayor in their town, he had already separated from and was no longer in contact with her.

In his affidavit, Espinosa also implicated Albuera Police Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido as having introduced him to Ronnie M. Dayan, Senator Leila M. de Lima’s former aide and alleged bagman. Mr. Espenido denied this and other allegations by Espinosa.

Espinosa claimed he handed Mr. Dayan a total of P8 million for Ms. de Lima’s senatorial campaign. The confessed drug lord said he first met with Mr. Dayan at the Mall of Asia parking lot in August 2015 to deliver P2 million. In October, he delivered P1.7 million in bundled up P1,000 bills at Dampa, Macapagal Avenue. Mr. Espinosa said he finally had an encounter with Ms. de Lima the next month at Burnham Park in Baguio City, of which he had a photograph now circulating online. A final delivery of P2.3 million was made to Mr. Dayan at the Mall of Asia parking lot in February this year.

Ms. de Lima did not take part in Espinosa’s questioning but said at the hearing that she “categorically, firmly and absolutely” denies “having received any money, any cash from Mr. Espinosa, either directly or indirectly through anyone else, in any occasion at any time, whether that money is supposedly either for protection or fund-raising for campaign expenses.”

For his part, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director-General Ronald M. dela Rosa said CIDG8 operatives involved in the Espinosa killing “will be placed in restrictive custody, within Camp Crame, after the hearing.” said Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald “Bato” M. dela Rosa during the interpolations at the Senate inquiry on Mr. Espinosa, Sr.’s death yesterday.

“You can’t blame the public for losing trust in the police when I myself don’t know kung sinong pagkakatiwalaan [who to trust],” Mr. dela Rosa said as he cried at the hearing.

For his part, Senior Superintendent Victor Ongkiko, acting director of the Internal Affairs Service Region 8 (IAS8), said “we have started with the motu proprio (on their own volition) investigation. The case is now elevated to pre-charge investigation and we are now ready to furnish a copy to the respondents.” A subsequent summary hearing would be held, then the IAS will submit its recommendations to Mr. dela Rosa by Dec. 23. — reports by and Lucia Edna P. de Guzman