Mayor Rolando Espinosa: Killed in a suspicious jail “shootout”

He thought he was safe being detained right inside a jail. But Rolando Espinosa, mayor of Albuera, Leyte, was wrong. Instead, he was killed in an alleged shootout with policemen right in his cell at the sub-provincial jail located in Baybay City, Leyte early Saturday morning. He died of 4 gunshot wounds.

Operatives of CIDG-8, said to be also cops, came at dawn (about 3 am) to the jail with a search warrant on Espinosa. They were led by Chief Inspector Leo Larraga. However, the mayor allegedly was armed and resisted and was shot dead. Sachets of shabu was also said to have been found in his possession.

The jail house killing of a detained mayor was shocking news to government agencies involved in jail management, particularly the Leyte provincial government in charge of the prison. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) were likewise caught off guard.

“We want to know if CIDG Region 8 followed standard operating procedures in undertaking this operation and in serving the search warrant to Espinosa and (Raul) Yap,” DILG Secretary Ismael Sueno said. Raul Yap, another detainee and said to be drug lord, was also shot dead.

Consequently, Secretary Seuno ordered the PNP Chief, Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, to start a probe soon to gather “substantial evidence” explaining the alleged shootout.

Espinosa Family Skeptical

Relatives of Mayor Espinosa, however, doubted his alleged resistance to the arrest. They demanded justice for the killing and said he may have been silenced by those he had implicated in the illegal drug trade of his son, Kerwin. Kerwin Espinosa is said to operate the biggest illegal drug trade in Eastern Visayas.

“We believe that my brother was intentionally killed. The claim that he tried to engage the police in a shootout was unbelievable,” said Ramon, the mayor’s brother. He remembered how the mayor believed he was safe in the custody of the police in jail.

Ramon said he didn’t see any reason why his brother had to engage police in a shootout. “He already submitted himself to authorities. Why should he engage police in a shootout inside the jail?” he asked.

Ramon admitted Espinosa had a licensed firearm but it was not with him inside the provincial jail.

Just before the supposed “shootout,” the mayor was overheard to have even pleaded for his life. “Ayaw gyud ko ninyo plantere, sir, wa ko armas nga gitago (Do not plant evidence sir, I’m not hiding any firearms),” Espinosa allegedly said and then gunshots were heard.


How the Raid Happened

The police raid, backed by a search warrant from Judge Tarcelo Sabarre of the Regional Trial Court Branch 30, happened at dawn on Saturday. The raiding team, composed of operatives from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Eastern Visayas (CIDG-8) was led by Chief Insp. Leo Larraga. They reportedly barged into the jail.

But instead of coordinating with the jail authorities, the raiding team kept the guards out of the way and kept them neutralized during the entire incident. One of them claimed a CIDG-8 operative had even commanded him to open the gate at gun point.

Then, he was told to face the wall while squatting while four other jail guards were ordered to another corner and kept there. Then the CIDG raiding team entered the facility. Moreover, the team also told four policemen belonging to the Provincial Public Safety Company not to get in the way because the team members were also cops.

Then shots rang out. None of the jail guards were allowed to see anything until about 11:30 am or after about 8 hours. The CIDG-8 operatives said Espinosa, 54, resisted when they served the search warrant and shot them. Their return shots killed the mayor. The CIDG-8 cops also said they found shabu inside the mayor’s cell.

In a nearby cell, also shot and killed was Raul Yap, said to be a drug pusher detained since July 28, 2014. However, there are also unconfirmed reports that Yap was with Espinosa in the same cell.

Police director for Eastern Visayas, Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar, said he was surprised by the operation, saying it was done without CIDG-8 coordinating with his office.

“I was shocked when I heard the news (that Mayor Espinosa was killed in a shootout),” Beltejar told the Inquirer. He, too, immediately ordered a probe by the Regional Internal Affairs Service to see if proper procedure was done during the operation.

Another version of the raid said no warrant was presented to the jail guards when the CIDG-8 team intruded into the jail premises to do the raid. One report disclosed to the Inquirer said Espinosa was alone in Cell No. 1 while Yap was in Cell No. 7. Another CIDG group went to Yap to finish him off, sparing 6 other inmates with him. A firearm and shabu were also said to have been found in Yap’s belongings.

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