COULD it be the handiwork of vigilantes? Rogues in uniform? Or persons who have an ax to grind against the victim and who took advantage of the ongoing crackdown on illegal drug trafficking and abuse by the Duterte government?
These are among the angles being pursued by investigators into the case of Attorney Rogelio G. Bato Jr., the lawyer of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., who, along with female high school student, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Tacloban City Tuesday afternoon.
Apart from Espinosa Sr., the victim is also lawyering for the mayor’s son Kerwin and some individuals facing drug-related charges in the city, two of them identified as Ricardo Rondina and his cousin, Ferdinand Rondina.
In a country where there have been many previous cases of lawyers killed allegedly on orders of their clients whom they have ‘double-crossed’ or due to other reasons like having romantic liaisons with married women or even young girls, the case of Atty. Bato has attracted attention since he was with a Grade 9 student of the Sagkahan National High School, identified as Angelica Bonita, when killed. Bonita was still in her school uniform when killed.
Officials expressed suspicion that the killers’ real target was only the lawyer and could have accidentally shot dead the student when they strafed the lawyer’s vehicle with automatic gunfire. Police sources said that the lawyer is known for being fond of having young girls as ‘girlfriends.’
The 48-year-old Bato is the lawyer of Mayor Espinosa and his son Kerwin, who remains at large. Espinosa surrendered to the Albuera Municipal Police Station, headed by Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido, due to alleged threats on his life. He turned himself over to Espenido weeks after he was booted out of the ‘White House,’ the official residence of Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald “Bato” M. dela Rosa, after a night stay where he promised he would convince his son to surrender.
Espenido said he has ordered his men to guard the mayor round-the-clock so they could immediately arrest him in case the court issues a warrant for his arrest in connection with the recovery of some P88 million worth of shabu in his house last month.
Kerwin, on the other hand, remains missing and is yet to send another word that he will surrender. The suspect left the country for Kuala Lumpur via a Cebu Pacific flight last June 21 and is still to return to the country. Officials said they have checked all immigration records of the young Espinosa and have confirmed that there is no record that he has returned to the country since June 21.
Tacloban City Police Station chief Senior Supt. Rolando Bade confirmed Bato’s identity and said they are exerting all efforts to identify the suspects and find out their motive. He also said that it is still premature to conclude that the attack is drug-related just because the lawyer is working for the Espinosas.
Reports said that former Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Leyte Chapter president Atty. Alberto Hidalgo challenged the government to thoroughly investigate the incident “and come up with a factual and credible result to show to the people of the Philippines that it is not involved in the extra- judicial killings.”
The lawyer, a resident of V & G Subd., Tacloban City, and Bonita were said to be on their way to Robinsons mall when they were suddenly attacked by the gunmen at 2:10 p.m. Tuesday. The suspects, armed with an M-16 automatic rifle and a caliber .45 pistol, fired at the victims who were on board a maroon Toyota Hi-Lux (YHH-461).
Police Regional Office 8 director Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar said he has ordered the Tacloban City police to dig deeper into the case and ‘leave no stones unturned’ in their investigation.