HOW SAFE IS KERWIN?
“Ambot uy. Naglibog pud mi (I don’t know. We also do not understand what is going on),” said Kerwin’s aunt Emma Espinosa in a phone interview yesterday.
She said the Espinosa family would want to live a peaceful life, especially with the recent death of Kerwin’s father, Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., but they now feared the most for the safety of Kerwin.
Emma said they are also hoping that Kerwin, who is currently under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Manila, would not end up dead like his father.
“Dili na mi ganahan maminaw anang mga kagubot didto (Leyte). Dili mi magapil-apil ana. Gusto mi og malinawon nga kinabuhi (We do not anymore want to hear about incidents involving members of Kerwin’s group in Leyte. We do not want to be a part of that. What we want is a peaceful life),” she said.
Emma and her husband Ramon, the brother of the slain mayor, spent the Christmas and New Year holidays in Albuera town in Leyte. They were set to return to their residence in Barangay Hipodromo, Cebu City, today.
While they were happy that Kerwin was transferred from the custody of the Philippine National Police to the NBI, Emma said there could never be an assurance that her nephew is safe.
“Ila baya ang gobyerno ron. Di ta pwede mokompyansa. Let’s hope and pray lang gyud nga walay dautan nga mahitabo niya (The government is theirs. We could not be complacent. Let’s hope and pray that nothing bad will happen to Kerwin),” she said.
Mayor Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap, were killed in a police operation inside the Baybay City sub-provincial jail last Nov. 5, 2016.
A unit of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Eastern Visayas (CIDG-8) raided the cells of Mayor Espinosa and Yap in search of drugs and firearms, and they were killed after they allegedly engaged the police in a shootout.
Senators who investigated the incident, however, described Mayor Espinosa’s killing as “premeditated” based on the suspicious manner with which the CIDG-8 team carried out the raid.
The NBI later filed multiple murder charges against 28 persons involved in the raid, even as President Rodrigo Duterte vowed that he would ensure that the accused policemen would not be made to spend a day in jail.
Over the last month, there had been little news about Kerwin’s gang until last Friday night when Ferdinand Rondina, 38, a trusted henchman of Kerwin, was shot dead by masked men in Ormoc City.
Barely 12 hours later, on Saturday, two other trusted henchmen of Kerwin, Brian Anthony Zaldivar and Jesus Tulin, were arrested by the police in Albuera, Leyte.
Zaldivar and Tulin were detained at the Albuera Police Station pending their transfer to the sub-provincial jail of Baybay City in Leyte to face murder charges for the death of a beach house caretaker in 2015, according to Supt. Federico Sanchez, who led the arresting team from the Leyte Province Police Office.
Sanchez said Kerwin is a co-accused in this case.
Tulin and Zaldivar were subjects of arrest warrants issued by Judge Carlos Arguelles of the Regional Trial Court Branch 14 for murder. No bail was recommended in the warrant that also included Kerwin.
The three were accused of killing Gregorio Velarde Sr., who was shot dead several meters away from the Zellan Resort Hotel owned by the Espinosas.
Velarde was a caretaker of a beach house located near the resort being built by Espinosa at that time. He caught the ire of the alleged drug lord when he complained to the barangay that the resort’s construction workers used his beach house as their toilet.
The arrest of Zaldivar and Tulin came just hours after Rondina was killed on Juan Luna Street, Ormoc City, on Friday night.
Rondina was watching a television news report at the barbecue stall of his sister just outside his house when two men shot him in different parts of his body at about 7:30 p.m., said Senior Insp. Joevil Joseph Young, chief of Ormoc City’s Police Station 3 and head of the City Anti-Illegal Drug Special Operations Task Group.
Both Rondina and Zaldivar were tapped as witnesses by then Albuera police chief, Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido, in the cases filed against those who allegedly protected Kerwin’s illegal operations.
Zaldivar, however, later retracted his statement and claimed that he was merely forced by Espenido to sign the affidavit. Rondina, however, did not backtrack from his sworn statement that identified the policemen who received money from Espinosa.
Rondina was considered to be one of the trusted men of Kerwin, regarded the biggest drug lord in Eastern Visayas composed of the provinces of Leyte, Southern Leyte, Samar, Eastern Samar, Biliran and Northern Samar.
Rondina’s job also included distributing payola to police and local officials whom the drug lord wanted to get favors from, according to sources privy to Kerwin’s operation.
But Young said there was no record to indicate that Rondina was still engaged in the drug trade.
No drug activities
He said Rondina stopped his operation in July when he surrendered during Oplan Tokhang, a police house-to-house campaign to urge known drug personalities in the community to stop their illegal drugs operation.
Rondina also surrendered to Espenido when he learned that Mayor Espinosa had named his as among those involved in his son’s illegal operation.
In December last year, Espenido was transferred to Ozamiz City, Leyte, after he was tagged by Kerwin as the one who introduced him to Ronnie Dayan, erstwhile driver of now Sen. Leila de Lima who allegedly received P8 million in campaign funds from the drug lord. Espenido had denied the claim.
According to witnesses, Rondina had just finished reading his Bible after dinner about 7:30 p.m. when he decided to go out of his house on Juan Luna Street. He then went to the stall of his sister and watched a news report on the television.
Rondina was so engrossed watching TV that he didn’t notice two men in bonnets approached him and shot him repeatedly. When the victim fell on the ground, the gunmen shot him in the face to finish him off. His relatives rushed him to a private hospital where he died.
About 12 hours later, Zaldivar was cornered by the joint police forces at the house of his live-in partner in Barangay Luna, Ormoc City, about 7:07 a.m.
An hour later, Tulin was cornered in his house in Barangay Macabug, Ormoc City.
Both operations were conducted by the Leyte Province Police Office Intelligence Group, Provincial Public Safety Battalion and the City Public Safety Company of the Ormoc City Police.
The two were detained at the Albuera Police Station pending their transfer to the Leyte sub-provincial jail in Baybay City.
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