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Philippine probe: police murdered drug-linked mayor in jail

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government's investigation agency said Tuesday it has filed murder complaints against two dozen police officers and personnel after a probe showed they shot to death a jailed town mayor linked to illegal drugs and that there was no gunbattle as claimed by the law enforcers.

The National Bureau of Investigation said the Nov. 5 shooting to death of Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. and another inmate, Raul Yap, in their cells at a jail in the central province of Leyte was a "rubout." It said the policemen most likely put pistols and illegal drugs in their cells to justify a police raid.

The findings cast a black mark on President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly anti-drug crackdown, which has alarmed Western governments and human rights groups. There have been suspicions that some of the more than 4,000 slain drug suspects may have been killed deliberately by law enforcers and did not die in gunbattles as claimed by police.

NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin said the bureau filed the criminal complaints against policemen led by Superintendent Marvin Wynn Marcos, who heads the regional office of the police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, at the Department of Justice on Friday. Prosecutors will rule whether there is enough evidence to indict the policemen.

All the policemen involved in the raid at the jail conspired to kill Espinosa and Yap and cover up the murders, Lavin said.

"After conducting an exhaustive investigation of the incidents surrounding the killing of Mayor Espinosa and Yap, the NBI concluded that the testimonies of several witnesses had disputed the claim of an alleged shootout," the NBI said.

Espinosa's death has sparked skepticism even among politicians backing Duterte's crackdown because of the apparent brazenness of the killings. He had surrendered to the national police chief in a nationally televised event after he and more than 160 other officials were named publicly by Duterte in August as part of a shame campaign.

Espinosa was later released, but was arrested and jailed in October after being indicted on drug and firearm charges. His son, an alleged drug lord, was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in October and has been repatriated to the Philippines, where he has acknowledged past involvement in illegal drugs.

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

Forensic checks also showed the supposed guns of the two inmates were fired toward a wall, away from the gates of their cells where the policemen entered, contradicting police claims the two chose to shoot it out with the police, the NBI said.

Other prisoners saw someone accompanying the police enter Espinosa's cell with a pistol and walk out later without the gun, NBI officials said.

Marcos and his men have denied any wrongdoing and insisted in a Senate hearing that Espinosa and Yap died in a shootout. Duterte has said he believes the police account and asked the national police chief not to remove Marcos from his post during the investigation.

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