MANILA, Philippines – Local cops of Caloocan City murdered a helpless 17-year-old boy they accused of being linked to drugs, then later lied about the circumstances of the boy's death, a lower court verdict showed.
Police Officer III (PO3) Arnel Oares, PO1 Jeremias Pereda, and PO1 Jerwin Cruz were convicted of murder on Thursday, November 29, by the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) for killing Kian delos Santos during a One Time Big Time (OTBT) operation under the administration's banner campaign against drugs.
It casts a giant cloud of doubt on the regularity or conduct of the police in enforcing President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign.
All throughout the trial, the 3 cops stuck to one story – that they were in Barangay 160 in Caloocan City on the evening of August 16, 2017, to conduct an operation that didn't specifically target Delos Santos. In the middle of the operation, someone supposedly fired gunshots at them. (READ: TIMELINE: Seeking justice for Kian delos Santos)
"[Oares] then instructed PO1 Pereda and PO1 Cruz to secure the asset and that he will be the one to chase the gunman. PO1 Cruz, PO1 Pereda, and the asset turned to the right while [Oares] turned left," said the court decision quoting the testimonies of the police.
But that isn't what happened, according to at least 3 eyewitnesses, two of them minors, who said the cops arrived in motorcycles and immediately went to Delos Santos' house. A 14-year-old witness said the cops kicked Delos Santos' gate, scaring away the victim's sister.
Not finding Delos Santos there, the young witness said the cops walked further with the asset and that's when they ran into Delos Santos, whom the cops immediately punched.
Another witness saw the cops drag Delos Santos to a pigpen, where she heard the boy pleading, "Huwag po, sir (Please don't, sir)."
The witnesses then heard gunshots.
Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler
He was helpless
In Oares' version, it was Delos Santos who first fired the shots and he supposedly chased the boy who was "approximately 10 meters in front of him and retaliated by firing an initial two shots using his service firearm."
"He again fired another 4 shots from a distance of approximately 5 to 6 meters away from the gunman or a total of 6 shots," said the court, quoting Oares.
But forensic evidence belie this claim, as ballistic tests from the police showed Delos Santos was shot from a mere distance of 60 centimeters or the equivalent of two rulers.
The court also relied on the ballistics report of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which said Delos Santos was shot at by two persons.
"The version of the accused Oares must necessarily fail in light of the evidence," said Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr.
The court said the witnesses' positive identification of the cops "without any showing of ill motive" trumps bare denials.
The court also ruled Delos Santos was helpless, giving merit to evidence that he was already kneeling, covering his head and pleading to the cops not to shoot.
"Pereda and Oares shot Kian while Cruz, a fellow police officer, stood guard without any provocation from Kian and making it impossible for him to retaliate," said the court.
Was Kian really caught with drugs?
Police accused Delos Santos of being a drug runner, although they told a Senate investigating panel last year that they "confirmed" the boy's alleged drug links through social media only after he was killed.
Delos Santos was found dead with a gun in his hand and sachets of shabu.
Were those planted? The court said the prosecution was not able to sufficiently prove that they were, clearing the policemen of charges of planting firearms and drugs.
The 14-year-old witness said she saw the cops order Delos Santos to sit down and "hold something wrapped in a towel." The other witness said her husband told her he saw Oares place a gun in Delos Santos' hand.
The court ruled that these testimonies were hearsay.
"No other evidence whether testimonial or documentary has been adduced by the prosecution to establish the fact that the accused planted the firearm and prohibited drugs respectively," said the court.
Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Acosta, who supports President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign, said Delos Santos' case should warn cops to strictly follow their operations manual, "pero kung nanlaban, may depensa po sila sa husgado (but if the person fought back, they have a defense before the court)."
The judge did not directly tackle the issue of whether or not the operation was at all valid or legal. (WATCH: CCTV footage of Kian delos Santos dragged by Caloocan cops)
But he said: "The use of unnecessary force or wanton violence is not justified when the fulfillment of their duty as law enforcers can be effected otherwise. A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society."
Azucena also reminded the police force: "Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement. The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life."