Death of Antipolo drug suspect an 'extralegal killing,' rules court

File images by Shutterstock and LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) ruled that the death of an Antipolo City drug suspect in 2016 was an "extralegal killing," prompting the court to recommend the filing of cases against the police officials involved. 

In a ruling, the CA said the respondent policemen – including Police Inspector Aristone Dogwe and PO2 Mark Riel Canilon – failed to follow the procedures before, during, and after drug buy-bust operations. 

The ruling was released on November 20 but was only made available to media this week.

The court also said that because the drug suspect, driver Joselito Gonzales, was shot at his back, it was possible that he did not fire at the policemen, but instead ran for his life. 

The CA noted that Gonzales' body was found 43.2 feet away from 3 cartridge cases that "presumably came from the firearms of the police operatives." If indeed Gonzales fought back during a buy-bust operation, "the exchange of bullets should have occurred at close range."

"In view of the foregoing, we are of the considered opinion that there is substantial evidence in this case to conclude, at the very least, that the legal safeguards in place had been breached by the members of the buy-bust team. Accordingly, such breach merits a finding that Joselito had been the subject of an extralegal killing," the CA said in the ruling.

The CA then recommended that criminal, administrative, and civil cases be filed against Dogwe, Canilon, and members of the Antipolo City Police Station-Anti Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (ACPS-AIDSOTF) and Provincial Special Operating Unit Team who have yet to be identified.

In its decision, the CA also released a permanent protection order that blocks respondents from entering a one-kilometer radius from the home and work addresses of Gonzales' spouse, Christina Macandog Gonzales. Covered by this permanent protection order were Dogwe, Canilon, SPO1 Allen Glenn Cadag, and members of the anti-illegal drugs task force of the Antipolo police.

The CA also said local police officials Valfrie Tabian, Adriano Enong, and Simnar Semacio Gran, as well as their successors, were accountable for Gonzales' death. "It would seem then that it is quite easy for police officers to commit extralegal killing and get away with it since the superior police officers appear nonchalant as to such occurrences," the CA said. 

The CA released this decision after the Supreme Court (SC) remanded the case to them. The drug suspect's wife, Christina, earlier filed related petitions before the SC. 

Gonzales was killed on July 5, 2016, in a supposed drug buy-bust operation. Canilon claimed that Gonzales fired at the policemen after sensing that the operation was against him, but the court was not convinced. 

The decision comes around the same time that a Caloocan court found 3 policemen guilty of murdering 17-year-old Kian delos Santos. The Duterte administration is facing allegations of extrajudicial killings as it wages the bloody anti-drug campaign promised by President Rodrigo Duterte. – Rappler.com