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Kho cleared of Espinosa murder

After 11 years of trial, Masbate Gov. Antonio Kho has been acquitted in a murder case filed by the heirs of the late Masbate Rep. Tito Espinosa.

Regional Trial Court Branch 81 Judge Ma. Theresa dela Torre-Yadao handed down her decision yesterday, clearing Kho and two of his co-accused.

Yadao, however, found accused Blas Rosario, who was identified by three witnesses as the lone gunman, guilty beyond reasonable doubt and sentenced him to life imprisonment, aside from ordering him to pay P50,000 as death indemnity and P.5 million in damages.

Last year, Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 141 Judge Manuel Victorio also cleared Kho of murder raps for the 1989 slaying of Moises Espinosa Sr.

String of killings

Tito Espinosa was gunned down on Feb. 28, 1995 at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and IBP Road in Quezon City. In May that year, Kho ran and won as governor of the province. On the other hand, Moises Espinosa was shot at the Masbate airport on March 17, 1989. Kho was mayor of Cataingan town, at the time when Masbate politics was dominated by the Espinosas, Yanezas and Fernandezes.

Kho is also linked to the death of yet another another rival, Fausto Seachon Jr., who was killed in Caloocan City last year.

The former congressman was the brother of Masbate Rep. Rizalina Seachon, who defeated Olga Kho, wife of incumbent Masbate governor, in the 2004 elections.

Fausto Seachon, a three-time congressman, ran for governor when his term expired, but lost to Antonio Kho.

Court records showed that nine persons were accused in the murder of Tito Espinosa. Of the nine, only four, Blas Rosario, Robert Pidlaon, Kho and Arnel Quidato were covered by the decision.

Pidlaon, who was tagged as lookout, was acquitted and was ordered released from detention. Quidato, a police escort, was also acquitted.

Two more accused—Tirso Tamondong and Jacinto Ramos— are still at large. Another alleged accomplice was never identified and arrested, while accused Nestor Lim and Rogelio Soriano died even before the verdict was handed down.

Yadao found Rosario guilty beyond reasonable doubt based on the testimonies of three witnesses—Bienvenido Llevado, a cigarette vendor; Rodolfo de Leon, a taxi driver who were at the crime scene at the time of shooting; and Misel Espinosa, who was inside the car with the victim.

The court had recognized the fact that the Espinosas and Khos are political adversaries in Masbate, citing the efforts of Speaker Jose de Venecia in 1995 to forge a unified ticket but to no avail. Jaime Pilapil