WATCH: Espinosa may testify vs senator, 29 others
MALACAÑANG on Thursday is considering the possibility of placing Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) after he implicated a senator, congressmen and some officers of the Philippine National Police as the top 30 protectors of his son Kerwin’s narcotics business. In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said President Rodrigo Duterte was considering placing Espinosa under the WPP program of the Justice Department.
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On Wednesday, Espinosa said he was ready to publicly identify the government officials involved but he decided to postpone doing so because of the threats to his life. Albuera police director Chief Insp. Jovie Espinido said he saw the affidavit the mayor executed last Aug. 14, listing the people involved in narcotics trafficking.
“There is a senator, there is a senator who used to be [Department of Justice] secretary,” Espinido said. Only two incumbent senators have been secretaries of Justice: Senators Franklin Drilon and Leila de Lima. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said that Espinosa has not yet applied to enter the WPP— the department’s program which seeks to protect and encourage a witness to testify before a court.
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He, however, clarified that the department can automatically accept all the applicants who wish to enter the program. Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said that should Espinosa apply as a state witness, it could only mean his admission that he committed the same crime as his son.
“Yes, if you become a state witness, that means that you are the least guilty. That’s why you’ll testify,” Panelo told the Manila Standard. Espinosa’s affidavit could be the legal basis for cases that will be filed against the protectors of Kerwin Espinosa, who remains at large. Aguirre said that they still have to evaluate if Espinosa is qualified to enter the WPP and be a state witness against alleged protectors of drug lords.
Also on Thursday, Abella said that it would be best for more drug suspects named by President Duterte to meet him personally and clear such claims after Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr. on Wednesday confirmed meeting with Duterte to deny the accusations against him. Espino reiterated to Duterte that it would be impossible for him to collude with De Lima or her lover-driver.
At the same time, Abella warned international human rights groups not to believe the government was behind the spate of drug-related killings, saying that certain groups are out to destroy the administration.
“We also have to clearly and carefully make reference to the fact that certain deaths involving policemen may actually be cleansing operations by scalawags in uniform, and that these matters are already under investigation,” he said.
“We’d also like to emphasize the fact that Phase 1 of the campaign against drugs has been successfully implemented, and mainly, to create awareness of the depth of the drug menace; that Phase 2 of the campaign has already started with the investigation of police officers involved in illegitimate operations.”
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri on Thursday said the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and other law enforcement agencies should attack the financial infrastructure of drug syndicates, saying he was baffled by P500 million worth of checks paid out by Kerwin Espinosa, a suspected drug lord, without being detected by regulators. “We are counting on the AMLC in particular to quickly spot and seize suspected drug money flowing through our banks, and to forcefully prosecute cases of money laundering by traffickers,” Zubiri said.
“Regulators should disabuse the perception that they have been inadequate in thwarting the criminal use of banks by drug traffickers,” he said. The senator singled out the case of Espinosa Jr., who is now being hunted by authorities due to his involvement in illegal drugs.
Citing the PNP, Zubiri said Espinosa was supposedly able to pay over P500 million worth of checks from eight bank accounts between 2014 to June 2016, with the bulk of the money apparently going to his alleged “protectors” in the criminal justice system.
“We are stumped that a high-risk individual can issue so many checks unobstructed, in amounts of up to P20 million per check, without the AMLC acting on suspicious transaction reports that should have been diligently filed by the banks involved,” Zubiri said. He said that from the start, the fact that Espinosa is the son of an incumbent mayor should have been a red flag for the banks and the AMLC.
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“The instant Espinosa opened his bank accounts, he should have been correctly tagged as a politically exposed person by the branch manager based on the know-your-customer rule,” said Zubiri.
Under the law, PEPs, including family members of politicians, are considered “high risk” due to their exposure to potential bribery and corruption, the senator said.
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Thus, he said the bank and other financial accounts of PEPs are supposed to be subject to stronger anti-money laundering due diligence checks by banks and the AMLC.