Philippine drug war victims

Caloocan cops convicted of homicide over killing of father, son in 2016 drug operation

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Caloocan cops convicted of homicide over killing of father, son in 2016 drug operation

JUSTICE. Families affected by the killings Duterte’s war on drugs and human rights defenders show their support to Mary Ann Domingo as the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court Branch 121 handed a guilty verdict to four police officers involved in the 2016 killing of Domingo's partner Luis and son Gabriel Bonifacio, on June 18, 2024.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) It was the Ombudsman who downgraded the charge from murder to homicide. This is only the fourth known conviction of cops in relation to drug war operations during the Duterte administration.

MANILA, Philippines – A Caloocan City court has convicted four cops of homicide over the killing of two people – a father and his son – during a drug war operation in the city in 2016.

Caloocan cops convicted of homicide over killing of father, son in 2016 drug operation

Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 121 Presiding Judge Ma. Rowena Violago Alejandria convicted Police Master Sergeant Virgilio Cervantes and police corporals Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre, and Artemio Saguros of homicide.

They were convicted for the killing of Luis and Gabriel Bonifacio during the first few months of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.

The court sentenced the four cops to imprisonment of 6 years, 8 months, and 21 days to 8 years as minimum, and 1 day to 10 years as maximum.

They were also ordered to pay P100,000 each for moral, actual, and temperate damage, and civil indemnity.

This is only the fourth known conviction of cops in connection to the Duterte’s drug war, out of the close to 30,000 people killed in the bloody campaign. The first was in 2018, when cops were convicted of murder in the Kian delos Santos case.

In 2022, Patrolman Jeffrey Perez was convicted of torture and planting of evidence in relation to the killing of teens Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman. In March 2023, a Navotas court convicted the same cop for the murder of Arnaiz and De Guzman.

Caloocan cops convicted of homicide over killing of father, son in 2016 drug operation
The decision

In her ruling, Alejandria noted the elements of homicide, punishable under article 249 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC):

  • A person was killed
  • Accused killed the person without any justifying circumstance
  • Accused had the intent to kill, which is presumed
  • The killing does not fall under qualifying circumstances of murder, parricide, or infanticide

According to the ruling, the prosecution was able to establish all the elements of homicide in the case at hand. 

The court also took note of the findings of forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun after examining Luis and Gabriel’s remains. Fortun noted the remains sustained multiple shots and that there was “intent to kill.” She also noted that both victims had “defense type injuries,” or types of wounds that “would define or indicate that they are defense type or [the victim was] defensing” at the time of the attack. 

In the ruling, the court highlighted the importance of physical evidence as evidence “of the highest order.” According to the court, physical evidence “speaks more eloquently” than a hundred witnesses and have been characterized as “that mute but eloquent manifestations of truth which rate high in our hierarchy of trustworthy evidence.”

“The attempt to discredit the testimony of Dr. Fortun did not persuade this Court to turn its eye blind on the injuries sustained by the victim. Such physical evidence, being the highest form of evidence, deserves greater probative value,” the ruling read. 

In addition, the court was also not convinced that the cops only fired one shot each to defend themselves, based on their defense, because the victims sustained multiple gunshot wounds. The court said this finding strengthened Domingo’s testimony that her husband was ordered to kneel down and guns were poked at both Luis and Gabriel.

“As between the testimony of Mary Ann and of the accused, the former is more credible,” the court said.

Why lower the penalty?

Homicide is usually punishable by 12 years and one day as minimum, and up to 20 years as maximum.

Article 11 of the RPC lists justifying circumstances that do not incur criminal liability. This means that if people can prove that theirr act falls under these circumstances, they will not be held criminally liable. Among the circumstances mentioned is: “any person who acts in the fulfillment of a duty or in the lawful exercise of a right or office.”

However, the court said the cops cannot invoke that they acted in defense nor in the fulfillment of their duty as justifying circumstances to avoid criminal liability. The court said “there was nothing to defend” when the cops suddenly entered the victims’ house. 

“Even if it is improbable to believe that each of them fired only once, as a protection for themselves, the firing made by the accused cannot be considered also as justified, being made without due care and without regard to anyone who might be hit with such indiscriminate firing in a place where there may be other persons presents aside from their targets,” the court explained.

Similar to the ruling in the case of Jemboy Baltazar, who was also killed by cops, the court granted a lower penalty to the suspects. 

The court applied Article 69 of the RPC to the cops’ case, which states: “A penalty lower by one or two degrees than that prescribed by law shall be imposed if the deed is not wholly excusable by reason of the lack of some of the conditions required to justify the same or to exempt from criminal liability in the several cases mentioned in Article 11 and 12, provided that the majority of such conditions be present.”

With this, the court imposed a lower penalty to the four cops.

What happened before

Mary Ann Domingo, Luis’ wife, said their house was raided by Caloocan cops past midnight on September 15, 2016. Domingo said she and their children were in their house when around 15 to 20 armed cops entered their house.

Luis was their target and when they saw him, they pointed their guns at him. Mary Ann and the children hurried upstairs while Luis was left pleading to the cops “on his knees with guns pointed at his head.” Their son, Gabriel, refused to leave his father’s side.

Later, Mary Ann said she and their three other children “were eventually dragged down the stairs and outside” their home and into the street. Afterwards, Mary Ann said they heard gunshots. She was told that her husband was dead while Gabriel was taken to the hospital. Gabriel later died.

In March 2017, Domingo filed a murder complaint against the police officials and personnel involved in the operation before the Office of the Ombudsman. It took four years before the Ombudsman issued a resolution, and downgraded the complaint to homicide. Although the Ombudsman rejected the self-defense arguments of the cops, the prosecutors said they did not find enough basis to charge the cops with murder, so the police were instead indicted for homicide.

Domingo and her counsel, Kristina Conti of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, appealed the Ombudsman’s resolution but were denied. They tried to assail the Ombudsman’s resolution before the Supreme Court (SC), but the SC denied their petition, including Mary Ann’s request for a temporary restraining order. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Jairo Bolledo

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