MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – A regional trial court in Caloocan found 3 policemen guilty of murdering 17-year-old Kian delos Santos – the first conviction of abusive cops in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
Caloocan Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 125 Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr convicted Police Officer 3 Arnel Oares, Police Officer 1 Jeremias Pereda, and Police Officer 1 Jerwin Cruz, and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua, or imprisonment for 20 to 40 years, without eligibility for parole.
"The court commiserates with our policemen who regularly thrust their lives in zones of danger in order to maintain peace and order and acknowledges the apprehension faced by their families whenever they go on duty," said Azucena in his 35-page decision.
"But the use of unnecessary force or wanton violence is not justified when the fulfilment of their duty as law enforcers can be effected otherwise. A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society," he added.
The 3 were also ordered to pay Delos Santos' family P100,000 in civil indemnity, P100,000 in moral damages, P45,000 in actual damages, and P100,000 in exemplary damages.
But the cops were found not guilty of planting firearms and drugs for failure of the prosecution to prove this.
The moment the court handed out the verdict on Thursday, a cry came out from the defense side, from one of the girlfriends of the cops. Cruz was also seen crying.
The 3 were immediately whisked away by their police escorts, but no one wanted to make a statement. The police did not say where they would be taken.
By rules, convicts are generally committed to the New Bilibid Prison, but the court has yet to release a commitment order as of posting time.
Delos Santos' parents Saldy and Lorenza were also immediately whisked away by their Witness Protection Program escorts. (READ: Our son, Kian: A good, sweet boy)
The 3 policemen, previously of Caloocan City Police Station 7, were arrested and detained February this year, or 6 months after Delos Santos was killed. The teen was shot while in a kneeling position in a dark alley in Barangay 160, Caloocan.
The police team was conducting the anti-drug operation Oplan Galugad, when they claimed the lanky Delos Santos shot at them. They claimed the usual police narrative of "nanlaban (fought back)" or shooting the victim as part of self-defense, which has been the line of the government in response to accusations of extrajudicial killings.
CCTV footage later showed the policemen dragging a teen – supposed to be Delos Santos – across a basketball court, before taking him to a dark alley. According to forensic experts, the victim was kneeling, face down, when he was shot.
The cops did not deny shooting Delos Santos, but they denied that the teen in the CCTV footage was the victim.
“Tama na po, may test pa ako bukas (Please stop, I have a test tomorrow),” Delos Santos supposedly begged the cops, according to eyewitnesses.
It was the most sensational case yet of an extrajudicial killing in Duterte’s war on drugs, which boosted the case for human rights advocates who claim cops are killing Filipinos with impunity emboldened by the tough-talking Duterte.
During the presidential campaign, and even when he was already Chief Executive, Duterte promised cops he would grant them presidential pardon if they are sent to prison for killing criminals and civilians in the line of duty.
The Supreme Court is currently reviewing thousands of police documents related to the deaths committed under the mantle of the war on drugs, whose constitutionality they will have to decide.
So far, the High Court has released a resolution saying the number of deaths alone gives the impression that the killings are state-sponsored.
International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is also conducting preliminary examinations into Duterte’s war on drugs to establish jurisdiction to prosecute him for crimes against humanity.
As a response, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC, but the preliminary examinations remain valid based on the Rome Statute. – Rappler.com