Investigators: Philippine police killed jailed mayor

Probe contradicts President Rodrigo Duterte's claim that imprisoned mayor linked to illegal drugs died in a gun battle.

    Investigators: Philippine police killed jailed mayor
    Rolando Espinosa was mayor of Albuera town in the eastern province of Leyte [File: Mark R Cristiano/EPA]

    Philippine police killed a town mayor linked to illegal drugs while he was helpless in a prison cell, justice department investigators alleged.

    The National Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday that it filed murder complaints against two dozen police officers and personnel last week after a probe showed they shot dead Mayor Rolando Espinosa and his cellmate Raul Yap in the central province of Leyte in November.

    "The pieces of evidence, both testimonial and the forensic evidence, all agree. We believe we have a very strong case," said Ferdinand Lavin, the NBI's deputy director. 

    READ MORE: Duterte says Trump wished him 'success' in war on drugs

    Prosecutors will rule whether there is enough evidence to indict the policemen.

    The finding contradicted claims by the accused and President Rodrigo Duterte that the victims were killed in a gun battle.

    Duterte had accused Espinosa, mayor of the town of Albuera in the eastern province of Leyte, of being a drug lord. He had initially given police "shoot-to-kill" orders if Espinosa did not surrender, prompting the mayor to turn himself in.

    NBI said the policemen most likely planted pistols and illegal drugs in their jail cells to justify a police raid.

    'Shoot-to-kill'

    Rodrigo Duterte: The President's Report Card - 101 East

    A few days before police raided the Leyte jail, authorities made a thorough search of the detention centre but found no guns or illegal drugs, so it was impossible for Espinosa and Yap to have weapons and narcotics in their cells, the NBI said.

    Duterte, 71, won May elections in a landslide on a promise to kill thousands of criminals to prevent the Philippines from becoming a narco-state.

    Monday's accusations deepened concerns that police were carrying out summary executions as part of Duterte's controversial "war on drugs", which has claimed more than 5,100 lives in about five months.

    In a speech late on Monday, Duterte defended the police who killed Espinosa and said he believed their version of events.

    "Do not force me to believe the theories and assumptions, even with the witnesses, that the mayor was killed [illegally] in the prison," he said.

    READ MORE: Philippines - Playing dead to survive Duterte's drug war

    Duterte had previously signalled that he was happy Espinosa had been shot dead.

    "You have here a guy, a government employee, using his office and money of government, cooking [illegal drugs] and destroying the lives of so many millions of Filipinos. So what is there for me to say about it?" he said last month.

    Duterte's police chief initially stood down the police officer in charge of the raid pending an investigation, but the president immediately reinstated him.

    Philippine mayor killed in police shootout

    SOURCE: News Agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.

    Pakistan's tribal areas: 'Neither faith nor union found'

    Pakistan's tribal areas: 'Neither faith nor union found'

    Residents of long-neglected northwestern tribal belt say incorporation into Pakistan has left them in a vacuum.