Espinosa's death, the latest in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, happened just a week after another small-town mayor, Samsudin Dimaukom, was killed in a gun battle with police in the southern island of Mindanao.
The two were among the more than 150 politicians, judges and law enforcement officials whom Duterte publicly linked to the country's drug trade. Duterte, who ran on a promise to eradicate the country's massive drug problem by killing criminals, read their names on television in August as part of a shame campaign.
Hundreds have been killed since the brash-talking Philippine leader began his brutal drug war. Many were shot during confrontations with police, while others were gunned down by unknown attackers. The crackdown, which has mostly targeted the poor, entered a new phase last month and is now going after politicians and drug lords, according to the Associated Press.
Espinosa and several others surrendered to the Philippine National Police after they were named by Duterte. He was released but arrested again in October on drug and firearm charges, the AP reported.
Police raided his home and allegedly found high-powered weapons, ammunition and 11 kilos, or 24 pounds, of methamphetamine, locally known as shabu. The drugs are worth about 88 million pesos, or about $1.8 million, according to the news website Rappler.
Detectives went to the jail in Baybay City, Leyte, early Saturday to execute a search warrant. Espinosa and a fellow inmate resisted and were shot by the officers, Leyte Police Chief Juvy Espinido told a radio station. Investigators found two handguns and packs of shabu in the men's jail cells, Rappler reported.
Espinosa's son, Kerwin Espinosa, is also suspected of drug trafficking and was arrested last month in Abu Dhabi, according to the Philippine National Police.
The father and son have been labeled the biggest drug lords in the eastern part of the Visayas region, the Philippine Inquirer reported.
Espinosa's death prompted alarmed reactions from some lawmakers. Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, called the killing a “slap in the face” of the country's criminal justice system, Reuters reported.
About a week ago, on Oct. 28, Dimaukom was killed along with nine of his men. Police said Dimaukom and his men fired at police officers who had set up a checkpoint after receiving reports that the mayor and others were on their way to transport illegal drugs, according to CNN Philippines.
After the death of Dimaukom, who was known for his affinity for the color pink, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu urged the mayor's supporters to remain calm as they wait for the official police report on the deaths, the Philippine Star reported.
“We should talk and react based on reason, not based on emotion,” Mangudadatu said, according to the newspaper.
Duterte's unprecedented crackdown on his country's drug problems has raised concerns among Western countries and human rights groups. He has responded harshly to criticism, at times lashing out at President Obama.
In a profanity-laced speech in Manila last month, Duterte said the United States should be supporting the Philippines in battling its drug problems instead of criticizing him for the rising death toll.
During a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Duterte was asked whether he has created a state of lawlessness that allowed people to kill to settle old scores under the guise of the war on drugs. Duterte defended his methods, saying his goal is “preserve the interest of the next generation.”
“If you destroy my country, I'll kill you. That's a legitimate thing,” Duterte said. “If you destroy our young children, I will kill you. That is a very correct statement.”