crimes in the Philippines

‘Good heavens’: Bishop David questions verdict in Jemboy Baltazar case

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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‘Good heavens’: Bishop David questions verdict in Jemboy Baltazar case

CBCP HEAD. Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, leads Mass commemorating the 38th year of the 1986 People Power Revolution at the EDSA Shrine on February 25, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

‘The boy was unarmed when they fired at him and they left him submerged underwater and allowed him to drown when they could have saved him!’ says Bishop Pablo Virgilio David

MANILA, Philippines – Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David questioned the court ruling that convicted only one of six cops of homicide in the case of Jemboy Baltazar, a 17-year-old boy whom police shot and killed in August 2023.

The killing of Baltazar, who later turned out to be a mistaken target, was a high-profile case that exposed how police impunity continued even after former president Rodrigo Duterte – infamous for his war on drugs – stepped down from office in June 2022.

The victim’s mother Rodaliza Baltazar wept shortly after a Navotas court handed down its verdict, she said in a Rappler Talk interview on Tuesday, February 27.

David told Rappler on Wednesday, February 28, that he understands the disappointment of the Baltazar family, noting it is “at least a good sign” that the Department of Justice “is planning to elevate the case to the Court of Appeals.”

“If the police had at least made an effort to take 17-year-old boy, Jemboy Baltazar, out of the water after they fired at him, in order to establish his identity, then maybe one might indeed say they had no ‘intent to kill.’ That’s how they usually reduce a charge of murder to homicide,” said David.

“But good heavens, the boy was unarmed when they fired at him and they left him submerged underwater and allowed him to drown when they could have saved him! (But would a law enforcer bother to save a ‘suspected criminal’ from drowning? I wonder),” said David, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“Firing at an unarmed suspect, causing him to fall into the water and leaving him to drown is still not a basis for establishing an ‘intent to kill’? Just asking,” said the bishop of the Diocese of Kalookan, whose jurisdiction includes the southern part of Caloocan, Malabon, and Navotas.

Impunity then and now

David made this statement after Navotas City Regional Trial Court Branch 286 released its verdict in the Baltazar case – seen as one of the test cases of the justice system under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. while Duterte is being investigated by the International Criminal Court.

The Navotas court on Tuesday convicted only one cop, Police Staff Sergeant Gerry Maliban, of homicide and not murder, which would have carried a heavier penalty of up to 40 years in prison.

The sentence on Maliban was only four to six years in prison, and P50,000 ($888) for moral and civil damages. 

Four other policemen – Police Staff Sergeant Niko Pines Esquilon, Police Executive Master Sergeant Roberto Balais Jr., Police Corporal Edmard Jake Blanco, and Patrolman Benedict Mangada – were convicted of illegal discharge of firearms and sentenced to four months in prison.

One of the accused, Police Staff Sergeant Antonio Bugayong Jr., was acquitted.

When the court released its verdict, Jemboy’s mother Rodaliza told Rappler reporter Jairo Bolledo: “Humagulgol na lang ako na, ganoon lang po pala ang buhay ng anak ko na…ilang buwan lang nilang paghihirapan sa kulungan. Tapos ‘yung isa makukulong lang nang apat na taon. ‘Yung anak ko, habambuhay na, hindi na makakabalik.

(I just wept that apparently that is the mere value of my son’s life, for which they will only suffer for a few months in prison. Then one will be imprisoned only for four years. As for my son, it is forever, he can no longer come back.)

Kahit mag-sorry sila sa amin nang ilang milyon, hindi namin sila mapapatawad (Even if they say sorry to us a million times, we can never forgive them),” she added on Rappler Talk.

‘Good heavens’: Bishop David questions verdict in Jemboy Baltazar case

David, one of the fiercest critics of Duterte’s drug war, explained that “the intent to kill became practically systemic” in “a kind of mindset that tended to encourage our law enforcers to behave with impunity.” This, he said, “was more the rule than the exception during the infamous drug war of the previous regime.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email