MANILA, Philippines — Human rights advocates here and abroad joined the storm of criticism greeting President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to return to active duty police officers involved in the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., saying it allowed them to “get away with murder.”
Duterte issued his directive to return Superintendent Marvin Marcos to duty in a speech at the anniversary of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology Wednesday during which he again reiterated his oft-repeated pledge not to jail military or police personnel convicted “for doing his duty and obeying my order.”
A day later, Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said Marcos, who used to head the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Region 8, had been assigned to head the same unit in Region 12. The 18 other officers accused him with over the Espinosa killing have likewise been assigned to different units.
Although Marcos and his men were originally charged with murder — the conclusion reached in separate investigations by the Senate and the National Bureau of Investigation — for the deaths of Espinosa and Raul Yap in their cells at the Baybay City Sub-Provincial Jail, the Department of Justice approved the downgrading of the charges to homicide, allowing the officers to post bail.
Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, said the decision to return Espinosa’s killers to active service “isn’t surprising,” pointing to a promise Duterte made in April not only to pardon but also to promote Marcos and his men should they be convicted. “They can call me and say they have been convicted, and I’ll tell the judge to pardon them all,” he said at the time.
“The kid-gloves handling of the officers is emblematic of the wider impunity” with which thousands of killings — some tallies place the total thus far at over 12,000 since June last year — Kine said Duterte has “glorified” and held out as “proof of the ‘success’ of an anti-drug campaign that has disproportionately targeted urban slum dwellers.”
For her part, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said under Duterte, “encouraging cops who spit on the right to due process to continue doing so and rewarding them with immunity from grave criminal charges is the order of the day.”
Palabay also worried that Marcos’ assignment to Region 12 bodes ill for residents of an area “where the PNP is notorious for illegally arresting peasants and lumad on trumped up charges,” pointing to the July 12 arrest of farmer and community leader Kama Sanung, in Barangay Hinalaan, Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat.
Sanung, who is also a pastor of the Association of Dulangan Manobo Evangelical Church, has been charged with illegal possession of firearms on the basis of weapons Palabay said had been “planted” by the arresting officers.
Kine repeated HW’s call for a “United Nations-led international investigation,” saying that, “until that occurs, police and their agents implicated in those killings will continue to get away with murder.”