Philippine National Police

Stronger PNP internal probe needed, Hontiveros says after Jemboy verdict

Jairo Bolledo

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Stronger PNP internal probe needed, Hontiveros says after Jemboy verdict

SUPPORT. Senator Risa Hontiveros with Rodaliza and Jessie Baltazar, parents of slain teenager Jemboy, face the Senate media a day after the court decision on the case on Wednesday, February 28.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

'Lumalabas na isa na naman itong pagsasalamin o mukha ng impunity na ilang mga taon na nating nilalabanan,' says Senator Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines – To ensure that justice will be served even in cases involving personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP), opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said a stronger internal probe mechanism within the PNP is needed.

A day after Navotas City Regional Trial Court Branch 286 meted light penalties against cops in the killing of 17-year-old Jemboy Baltazar, Hontiveros said the PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) should have a stronger mandate and capacity that will include criminal, and not just administrative cases.

The PNP IAS is a unit of the national police dedicated to investigating alleged abuses among police officers and personnel. The said unit has the mandate to file administrative or even criminal complaints.

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Navotas cops get lighter penalties for ‘mistaken’ killing of Jemboy Baltazar

Navotas cops get lighter penalties for ‘mistaken’ killing of  Jemboy Baltazar

“‘Yon din po kasi ‘yong ikinagugulat, ikinabibigla ng pamilya, na bakit dito sa kasong ito, ‘yong mga akusado ay inimbestigahan halos lamang ng sarili nilang mga comrades in arms sa loob ng serbisyo na hindi pa malakas ‘yong Internal Affairs Service o iba pang mekanismo ng PNP para sa talagang seryoso at mabigat na pag-iimbestigasyon,” Hontiveros said in a press conference on Wednesday, February 28.

Hindi ‘yan nagbibigay ng kompiyansa sa kanilang pamilya o publiko na walang impunity rito, na mayro’n talagang pagsingil ng accountability sa sarili nilang mga tauhan ang institusyon mismo,” she added.

(That’s what also shocked and surprised the family, that in this case, the accused were investigated by their comrades in arms within the service even though the Internal Affairs Service or the PNP’s other mechanisms are not fully ready for a serious and heavy investigation. This does not assure the family or the public that there is no impunity, and that there’s really a mechanism to exact accountability from the institution’s own personnel.)

As shown in Baltazar’s case, the problem with investigations involving crimes committed by the police is the lack of proper accountability. The teen was killed during a police operation in Navotas City after he was mistaken as the shooting suspect the cops were chasing in Barangay NBBS Kaunlaran.

When the issue of the killing blew up, the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP held a press conference where they released the suspects’ names and said that a criminal complaint for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide was already filed against them.

However, the Baltazar family and their lawyers from legal group IDEALS discovered later that “no information was filed in court, resulting in the said officers’ [cops] release for further investigation.” This prompted the family to file a murder complaint against the cops, which was the subject of the court’s ruling.

During a Senate inquiry into the teen’s killing last year, Northern Police District chief Brigadier General Rizalito Gapas said the six cops tagged as suspects were not subjected and refused to undergo paraffin tests. The said test is used to determine the presence of gunpowder residue.

‘Slap on the wrist’

In the press conference, Hontiveros also mentioned the lighter punishments against the cops involved in the killing.

Lumalabas na isa na naman itong pagsasalamin o mukha ng impunity na ilang mga taon na nating nilalabanan. Na hindi dapat na kapagka may pumatay, may nag-extrajudicial killing, o nagplano ng ganitong operasyon at pumatay sa bata, ay slap on the wrist lang,” the senator said.

(It seems this is another reflection or face of impunity that we have been fighting for years. It’s not acceptable that when someone killed a person, if there’s extrajudicial killing, or planned an operation and a teen was killed, the perpetrators will receive only slap on the wrist.)

Only one in the six accused cops – Police Staff Sergeant Gerry Maliban – was found guilty of homicide. This was a lower offense compared to the murder charge originally lodged by the family and its counsels. Maliban was sentenced to four to six years of imprisonment.

Four others police officers – Staff Sergeant Niko Pines Esquilon, Executive Master Sergeant Roberto Balais Jr., Corporal Edmard Jake Blanco, Patrolman Benedict Mangada – were convicted of illegal discharge of firearm and sentenced to four months in prison. Police Staff Sergeant Antonio Bugayong Jr. was acquitted.

Since the court allowed the four’s preventive imprisonment to be credited, they could be released from detention along with Bugayong who was absolved in the case.

Stronger PNP internal probe needed, Hontiveros says after Jemboy verdict

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers – National Capital Region said in a statement that the court’s decision, although grounded on facts and law, was difficult to accept for the family because of their loss. The group added that police accountability remains a tedious challenge in the country.

“But how can victims effectively prosecute when the authorities who are supposed to investigate are the ones suspected of the crime in the first place? It is certainly time to think about stronger accountability measures, a proper death investigation system, and a fair criminal investigation process,” the NUPL-NCR said.

The verdict on Baltazar’s case was not the first instance where cops tagged in killings received lighter penalties.

In the case of Edwin Arnigo, the cop, Christopher Salcedo, was only ordered imprisoned for a maximum two years and 10 months for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. Arnigo was the teenager with special needs who was killed by Salcedo at the height of lockdown due to COVID-19 in 2021. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.