Philippines' Duterte vows to protect police after inquiry shows 'rub out'

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday defended police officers who killed a detained mayor on a list of top drug suspects even after another law enforcement agency concluded the death was an extrajudicial killing.

Slideshow ( 6 images )

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Tuesday disputed a police account that the mayor from central Leyte Province, Rolando Espinosa, was killed in a shootout in a jail when police came to search for guns and drugs last month.

The bureau described Espinosa’s killing as a “rub out”.

“I will have to defend them,” Duterte said during a ceremony at the main army base in the capital, Manila, referring to the police officers.

“I will listen to the story and I will take it as the true version ... because they are under me, I should believe them.”

Earlier, Duterte had put Espinosa’s name on a list of top drug suspects. The mayor, who denied involvement in narcotics, was arrested on Oct. 5 on drugs and firearms charges.

Police said Espinosa and a fellow prisoner, Raul Yap, fired at a police team that had come to search their cells. Police returned fire and killed them.

Police say 2,004 people have been shot and killed by officers in self-defense during anti-drug operations since the president took office on July 1.

Espinosa’s killing was also investigated by senators, who doubted the police version of events because they said there were many inconsistencies in the official report and witness accounts.

Duterte said he did not believe the investigation done by the NBI because they had no credible witnesses.

“As a matter of fact, I’m ready to go to jail for them, no problem,” he added.

Investigators have filed murder cases against 21 police officers in connection with Espinosa’s death.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robeert Birsel