Philippine Police Killed Mayor in Jail, not Gunbattle as Pres. Said

Philippines President Rodrigo R. Duterte in a 2016 press conference

In Philippines, a recent investigation suggests the police killed a town mayor while he was in prison, not in a gunbattle as the country’s president had said. This Tuesday’s announcement fueled even more the controversy surrounding Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte (pictured.)

Duterte is known internationally for his bloody war on drugs and the diplomatic incidents with Obama administration. His critics claim that the National Bureau of Investigation’s findings could be proof the country’s law enforcement actively engages in summary executions during the unsual crackdown on drugs.

Specialized, hired-to-kill ‘death squads’ eliminated 5,100 people over the last five months. The NBI, which is the Filipino version of the U.S. FBI, found officers from the Philippine National Police executed mayor Rolando Espinosa along with another cellmate while he was awaiting trial in a jail cell.

NBI investigators said they reached this conclusion after an ‘exhaustive investigation’ into the circumstances of Espinosa’s death. The agency bases its findings on testimonies of several witnesses.

When asked whether the mayor died in a shootout with the police as the country’s president had suggested, the agency said he died in a ‘rub out.’ In the local dialect, a ‘rub out’ is a term to describe police’s practice to execute a suspect and later say he died in a shootout.

Ferdinand Lavin of the NBI said both witness accounts and forensic evidence point to the conclusion. He added his investigators have a “strong case.” Lavin and the agency he is running would recommend prosecution of 24 police officers involved in the killing.

The country’s justice department has yet to tell whether there would be any murder charges.

The Police’s Version of Events

In response, the police department said its officers acted in self-defense when they entered the cell. Reportedly, they had a search warrant for the mayor and his cellmate at the time. Police wanted to see whether Espinosa had any illegal drugs and firearms in his possession. The town mayor landed in jail in October on gun and drug possession charges.

Experts and the media mocked the police’s explanation, asking why they carried out the search just before dawn. And why was the search done in jail and where is the CCTV footage that recorded the incident?

It is also unclear how an inmate could have access to firearms and illegal drugs and why he would risk his life and engage in a gunbattle while outnumbered.

In face of this criticism, the country’s president repeatedly defended the policemen. He had promised to shield law enforcement officers involved in his war on drug dealers from prosecution.

Duterte who has instructed the police to shoot to kill the mayor if he resisted arrest said he was a drug dealer. On Monday, the Philippines leader said in public he believed the police’s version.

He told his critics not to “force” him to believe the NBI’s version even if there are witnesses. Shortly after the news about the mayor’s death, Duterte had showed signs of relief. Last month, he said that the mayor “cooked” dangerous controlled substances and destroyed the lives of millions.

“So what is there for me to say about it?,”

Duterted asked press.
Image Source: Wikimedia