MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted three agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and four Philippine National Police personnel in relation to a misencounter between their units in Quezon City on February 24, 2021.
In a DOJ resolution dated May 2, 2022, PDEA agents Khee Maricar Rodas, Jeffrey Baguidudol, and Jelou Satiniaman were indicted for homicide over the death of Police Corporal Eric Elvin Garado.
The justice department also indicted four cops for direct assault following the injuries sustained by PDEA agents during the incident. They are:
- Police Corporal Paul Christian Gandeza for direct assault over the injuries suffered by PDEA agent Raymart Bayote
- Police Lieutenant Honey Besas for direct assault over the injuries suffered by PDEA agent Prince Bernard Gallego
- Police Major Sandie Caparroso for two counts of direct assault over the injuries suffered by PDEA agent Brenson Sulang and Allan Capiral
- Police Senior Master Sergeant Melvin Merida for direct assault over the injuries suffered by PDEA agent Allan Capiral
On February 24, 2021, a gunfight broke out between the Quezon City Police District’s Special Operations Unit and PDEA’s Special Enforcement Service along Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City. The incident, which both groups called a “misencounter,” saw the death of two cops, a PDEA agent, and an informant.
The DOJ dismissed the homicide complaint filed against PDEA agent Romeo Asuncion over the death of Police Corporal Lauro de Guzman. The DOJ said the firearm and caliber used were never identified.
“Also, none of the evidence bullets or the spent cartridges found at the area (Zone E) matches agent Asuncion’s firearm,” the DOJ said. The justice department also dismissed the case filed against Police Corporal Alvin Borja over the death of PDEA agent Rankin Gano.
“The medico-legal report and ballistics examination by the NBI-FILD failed to identify the fatal shot at agent Gano. There is also no record showing that Police Corporal Borja was the only one who actually shot at Gano,” the DOJ added.
The DOJ dimissed other complaints filed by the NBI against PNP and PDEA personnel in relation to the incident, due to insufficiency of evidence. The NBI, which investigated the incident, filed the complaints in September 2021, or four months after the incident.
A few months after the incident, the PNP and PDEA signed unified guidelines on the conduct of anti-drug operations to avoid a repeat of the misencounter. The guidelines also seek to improve the coordination between the two agencies leading the government’s drug war.
In a statement, the PNP reacted to the DOJ’s move and said it would leave to the “justice system to determine and evaluate the merits of the case.”
“The indictment of some PDEA agents and PNP personnel during the so-called Commonwealth misencounter will give an opportunity for the respondents to be given their day in court in the interest of due process,” the PNP said.
What happened in the encounter?
According to the DOJ, the panel of prosecutors determined the following:
- Both the PNP and PDEA conducted buy-bust operations on Commonwealth Avenue, but their informants intertwined with their operations.
- The prosecutors pinned informants Untong Matalnas (PDEA) and Jonaire Decena (QCPD).
- While the PDEA agents were on their way to Litex, Quezon City for an operation, the engine of the vehicle carrying them and their informant Matalnas overheated. It forced them to stay in the McDonald’s Don Antonio parking lot.
- On the same night, Decena told the cops they would have an operation at the McDonald’s Don Antonio parking lot – the very same area where the PDEA agents were staying.
- After the cops arrived, Garado and informant Decena rushed towards the vehicle of PDEA agents. Garado pointed his gun at informant Matalnas and other passengers.
- A brief shootout occurred between Garado with his back up De Guzman, and the PDEA agents. The prosecutors said the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that Garado fell down, followed by De Guzman, shortly after the shootout started.
- The CCTV also showed that PDEA agent Gano also fell after the two cops.
- A brief ceasefire occurred. The QCPD personnel arrived to respond, but the shooting continued until the PDEA agents were cornered at the drive thru area.
- The prosecutors also noted that after responders from PDEA arrived at the scene, cops took the responders’ belongings. The cops also “hit, maul, and strike” the agents, which caused their injuries.
- Officially, the prosecutors named Garado, De Guzman, and Gano as the casualties. The prosecutors did not name the informant killed.