extrajudicial killings

Victim plays dead: In Marikina, a new case of ‘extrajudicial killing’

Rambo Talabong

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Victim plays dead: In Marikina, a new case of ‘extrajudicial killing’
A cop kills a construction worker in a Marikina subdivision. Police say he tried to snatch the cop's gun. A witness says he was murdered, shot point-blank at the back of his head.

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MANILA, Philippines – The basketball court was crowded in the evening, a blue tent shielding the starless sky. The grieving and their children sat upright on plastic monobloc chairs as they listened to the female pastor preach about justice and God with a cracking subwoofer. Behind her lay a man they knew dearly.

Kim Lester Ramos, 23, loved playing basketball. He was short and thin, but the players who knew him said his feet moved with certainty. He spoke little but laughed often. He did not smoke. Only drank on birthdays and holidays. He was still more of a boy than a man. They all said he was kind.

That night, he rested inside the walls of a chalk-white casket, just under the shadow of a rusting ring where he dropped his three-pointers.

His face, calm, bulged below his right eyebrow. On October 5, a cop shot him within point-blank range from behind his head. Police said Kim tried to snatch a cornered cop’s gun. The cop won in the supposed tussle and shot Kim straight in the head.

The people of Mountain View Subdivision in Marikina City know a different story. They say they were the lucky ones in the government’s war, as not one of their men had been lost in a TokHang visit or buy-bust after thousands have been slain.

Confronted with their first case, they could not sleep. They said they could not stay silent either. On the rotting railings of the court hung a spread of black cloth painted red and orange that said “JUSTICE FOR KIM.” Posted a few steps away was a tarpaulin screaming the same, but with a label for Kim: “EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING VICTIM.”

They were familiar with the stories of those killed in other neighborhoods. They were ready to fight back.

The witness and victim speaks out: ‘Pumikit na lang ako’

Lauro Lagarde, 22, told his story on a reclined white single bed inside a buzzing male ward of the Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center.

He remembered seeing darkness even before the sun set on October 5, the day he almost died. Lauro shut his eyes as he bled after being shot and falling from his motorcycle. He held his breath and lay still, pretending to be dead as Kim ran away.

The cop aimed his gun at Lauro’s chest, but Lauro shoved down the gun as the cop pulled the trigger. The bullet entered his left hip and came out of the left cheek of his buttocks.

He then heard the cop run after Kim, with seconds of slapping flipflops on the pavement before the gunshot. He peeked, just for a second, and saw his friend fall, face down on the pavement.

Narinig ko na hinabol niya si Kim. Noong naramdaman kong hinabol niya si Kim, tiningnan ko kung ano ang gagawin niya. Binaril niya talaga,” Lauro said. (I heard him run after Kim. When I sensed that he was chasing Kim, I looked at what he would do next. He really shot him.)

Lauro forced his eyes shut once more. He choked back tears and screams.

Just an hour earlier, he was shooting hoops with Kim and another friend, Johnny. Lauro had just finished repolishing his motorcycle, a pink Mio, while Kim came from work at the Project 4 district in Quezon City. The court was their refuge.

They wanted to have supper at a nearby eatery but first decided to meet in front of Johnny’s house nearby. They sat by the gutter as they waited, Lauro teasing Kim for playing Mobile Legends, when a cop whizzed past them aboard a motorcycle then made a U-turn. The cop spoke with a man on the street they did not know, then looked to Kim and Lauro.

Kayong mga adik magsitigil-tigil na kayo sa paggamit ng droga (You addicts, stop using illegal drugs already),” Lauro recalled the cop saying. Then the cop sped off, leaving the boys shocked.

As they rode the motor to supper, by coincidence, they caught up with the cop at the intersection of Mount Vernon Street and Gil Fernando Avenue. Lauro confronted the cop.

Sir, bakit ‘nyo kami sinasabihan na adik (Sir, why are you calling us addicts)?” Lauro recalled asking the cop. That was when the cop pulled his gun and shot them.

Lauro kept his eyes shut until he heard the footsteps of people – witnesses. With all his strength, Lauro pulled out his phone from his right pocket to try and call his friends and to get an ambulance. The cop snatched his phone, spat at him with expletives, and said, “Pasalamat ka buhay ka pa (Be thankful you’re alive).”

The crowd then began taking photos of him and Kim, angering the cop. The cop pushed the people away, and while holding on to his pistol, ordered them to delete all the footage they took.

Sabi niya, ‘Pulis ako, pulis ako,’” Lauro recalled. (He said, “I’m a cop, I’m a cop.”)

Lauro never got his phone back.

The rescue attempt: ‘Muntik na’

NIGHT PRAYER. Members of a born-again Christian community that Kim Lester Ramos was a part of offer him a prayer. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

Christopher Ramos, 33, arrived first from among Kim’s family at the crime scene. He was panting as a curious crowd started to form. Cops marked their territory with the yellow line.

Inside the no-cross zone, Christopher saw Lauro groaning as he bled, and around 10 meters away, saw his cousin Kim lying, face down, his left hand holding a blue handkerchief, his right hand empty.

At around 6:45 pm, Christopher said there were around a dozen cops at the crime scene, 3 of them standing guard around his cousin. He began to panic as there was no ambulance in sight. The cops were just looking, he said.

Then Christopher saw Kim’s head twitch – a sign of life – and he quickly slipped past the police line and dashed towards the body. His calculation was simple: he would haul his cousin’s body to the Amang Rodriguez Medical Center, 10 minutes away, to save him, instead of waiting another minute for an ambulance.

Mahahawakan ko na sana. Muntik na. Kung nahawakan ko ‘yun itatakbo ko talaga ‘yun eh (I almost touched him. I almost did it. If I had grasped him, I would have run and carried him away),” Christopher said, as he began to cry.

Before he could reach Kim, a policeman pushed him out. Christopher said he was Kim’s cousin. The cops didn’t appear to care. Even Kim’s father was kept out of the yellow line.

Christopher cried for cops to call an ambulance. Again, they just looked. Helpless, Christopher joined the rest who were staring at his cousin, praying that he would move again.

Kim had long stopped twitching when a funeral van picked him up from the scene.

The making of a coverup? ‘Pinabalik-balik kami’

HELPLESS. Norman Ramos seeks justice for his son Kim Lester Ramos. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

When the van took off from the crime scene, Norman Ramos, 63, was already down the corner, standing to block its path. The only way he would leave, he said, was if he was let into the van. The funeraria men gave him the shotgun seat.

At the funeral parlor, Norman saw his son up close. Kim wore a white shirt and bright silver basketball shorts. His right eye was a red void, while his forehead and knees still bled from the fall on the asphalt.

Norman wanted to know what led to his boy’s killing. That same night, he went to the barangay hall, but was told that policemen kept the blotter. He went to the Marikina City Police Station, but was told to return in the morning. When he returned in the morning, he was told to come back after lunch. When he returned after lunch, he was asked to drop by again in an hour.

Pinapabalik-balik lang ako (They only kept asking me to go back),” Norman said. He never got a police report.

Meanwhile, Lauro’s family was told about what happened only the next day. Lauro’s younger sister, Leslie, said she was also repeatedly asked by cops to return. They only found out about her brother’s case when a prosecutor and lawyer dropped by the hospital to hold bedridden Lauro for an inquest.

Pinapabalik kami, ‘yun pala, ginagawa na nila (They were asking us to return when in fact they were already working on it),” said Ansly Lagarde, Lauro’s eldest sister.

For Ansly and Leslie, “working” on the case meant the cops were working on a false narrative to spin the case against Kim and Lauro.

Even the media was informed late about the details of the encounter. In a news report dated October 7, the Journal reported that police announced the details in a “belated report.” (READ: Marikina cop shoots laborer in the head in alleged scuffle)

Other reporters have tried to speak with Lauro Lagarde inside the hospital, but he and his family said guards have been blocking reporters from entering, with or without cameras. 

Police accounts don’t add up: ‘Napilitan akong putukan’

JUSTICE DEMANDED. Protest tarpaulins hang outside the court where Kim Lester Ramos' casket is. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

In the affidavit of Police Corporal Herjonner Soller, he was the victim on October 5. His story presents an alternate reality to what Kim’s and Lauro’s families have seen. (READ: The Impunity Series)

Soller is an intelligence officer. At 6:30 pm, he said he was on “surveillance operation” in civilian attire to keep track of their most wanted persons when he found 4 men whom he described as “kahina-hinalang nakatambay sa madilim na bahagi ng kalsada (suspiciously loitering at a dark part of the street).”

Soller said he introduced himself as a cop and asked them what they were doing, but the men supposedly said, “Pakialam mo (why do you care)?” and when he left, he claimed the men shouted without any prompting, “Hoy gago, p*tangina mo, gago ka (Hey bastard, you son of a bitch, you’re a bastard)!”

Soller said two of the men, Lauro and Kim, then followed him onboard their own motorcycle.

Without explaining how, he said that they all fell from their bikes when they reached the intersection of Mount Vernon Street and Gil Fernando Avenue. Soller then said Lauro snatched his “bag” which contained his pistol, ammo magazine, handcuffs, money, and his ID.

While pulling it, Soller was supposedly able to open his bag and take out his pistol. Soller then said that Lauro tried to grab his gun and hold it by the barrel. According to Soller, they fought for the gun until eventually the gun’s trigger was pulled, releasing a bullet into Lauro’s hip.

The cop did not account for what Kim was doing while the scuffle was happening.

In Soller’s story, Kim had a gun with him all along, but Kim apparently decided to run towards a tree after Lauro was shot. Soller said Kim pointed the pistol at him, forcing him to shoot. Even at a supposedly far range, Soller was able to shoot Kim’s head even as Kim supposedly turned his back on Soller.

Soller claimed he immediately called for his teammates to call an ambulance, contrary to what witnesses saw in the crime scene.

Soller’s affidavit also does not match the narrative presented to the media by Marikina police chief Colonel Restituto Arcanghel. The more senior cop told the Journal that Soller identified Ramos as being involved in robbery cases. Arcanghel also said Kim was part of the gun scuffle, which was not in Soller’s account.

A community takes a stand: ‘Hindi kami natatakot’

UNITED. The neighborhood remembers Kim Lester Ramos with a group photo. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

On the other side of the blue tent are metal bleachers packed with young-looking adults, Kim and Lauro’s church community, the Christian Walk Ministry, ready to fight for them.

The Christian Walk Ministry is a born-again Christian organization that leads weekly bible teachings and feeding programs for the poor. As expected, Kim and Lauro were among the top organizers of the community liga (basketball tournament), where even policemen joined.

Hindi kami natatakot, kasi alam namin nasa tama kami (We are not afraid because we know that we are on the right side),” said Mary Jean Fulgar, one of the group’s most senior members.

Mary Jean watched the two boys grow up in the same court. She knew that they would not lift a pistol against anyone. They did not know how to use a gun. The kid Kim, she said, was even afraid of fireworks, triggering laughter from her companions.

Kim’s father Norman and Lauro’s siblings, meanwhile, have been bracing for battle in the legal arena. Lauro was accused of direct assault and attempted homicide, while Norman wants to clear his son’s name.

They have culled certificates from their barangay and the National Bureau of Investigation saying the two were neither drug personalities nor robbers. They have also spoken with the Commission on Human Rights and Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro to aid them in facing the police.

Kim will be buried on Sunday, October 13. His family and friends will use his funeral procession as a platform to protest killings and demand justice, much like those of drug war slain Caloocan teens Kian delos Santos and Carl Arnaiz, who were killed by cops and then framed as drug suspects.

The Marikina City police have already relieved Soller from his post as an investigation has been opened, but Norman Ramos wants cops to take a step further.

Gusto kong maipakulong ‘yan, masampahan ng kaso kung anuman ang ginawa niya (I want him to be jailed, to face a case for what he did),” Norman said.

The men and women of Mountain View Subdivision are mourning the death of one of their own. With the pushback, they are making it clear that any cop who commits abuse in their community must pay. – Rappler.com

TOP PHOTO: MOURNING. Norman Ramos looks over the casket of his son Kim Lester. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler


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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.