crimes in the Philippines

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

Jairo Bolledo

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

LIGHT PENALTIES. Policemen involved in the killing Jemboy Baltazar leave the Navotas Regional Trial Court after the promulgation of the case.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Only one cop is convicted of the lesser crime of homicide, with a sentence of 4-6 years in prison

MANILA, Philippines – Police officers of Navotas were meted with lighter penalties after a Navotas court on Tuesday, February 27, found only one cop guilty of the lesser crime of homicide for the “mistaken” killing of 17-year-old Jemboy Baltazar whom police pursued and shot dead in August 2023.

The charge filed against the six cops of Navotas involved in the botched operation was murder. But Navotas City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 286 convicted only one, Police Staff Sergeant Gerry Maliban, not of murder but of homicide. While murder has the penalty of reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison, Maliban was sentenced to only 4 to 6 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay P50,000 for moral and civil damages.

Four others – Police Staff Sergeant Niko Pines Esquilon, Police Executive Master Sergeant Roberto Balais Jr., Police Corporal Edmard Jake Blanco, Patrolman Benedict Mangada – were convicted of illegal discharge of firearm and sentenced to 4 months in prison.

Police Staff Sergeant Antonio Bugayong Jr. was acquitted.

Court ruling

In explaining why Maliban was convicted of homicide instead of murder, Navotas RTC Branch 286 Clerk of Court Anne Kathryn Diaz read a portion of the decision: “Police Staff Sergeant Maliban cannot be said to have employed means, methods, or forms in the execution of the crime.”

Diaz said this simply meant that it was not proven that Maliban planned the method of executing the crime. 

Sabi po rito, ‘This is because the urge to shoot the victim materialized only when the victim attempted to escape.’ So ‘yung pagputok niya ng baril, ginawa lamang niya no’ng nakita niyang mag-eescape na ho ‘yung biktimang si Jerhode Jemboy Baltazar,” she added.

(As stated here, “This is because the urge to shoot the victim materialized only when the victim attempted to escape.” So Maliban only fired his gun when the victim, Jerhode Jemboy Baltazar, attempted to escape.)

Even though Maliban was originally charged with murder, he can be convicted of a lesser offense. This in in line with section 5, rule 120 of the revised rules of criminal procedure, which states that a person can be convicted of a lesser crime in the crime he/she was originally charged with. 

As to the four cops convicted of illegal discharge of firearms, the court directed the authorities of Metro Manila District Jail Annex 2 to credit their preventive imprisonment. After crediting the earlier imprisonment and the accused will be found to have served the sentence, they could be released from detention. 

The four have been detained since October 5, 2023, so they could be released since more than four months had already passed since the day of the arrest. 

As to Bugayong, who was acquitted by the court, the decision said the cop was acquitted on the ground of reasonable doubt. 

In explaining the cop’s acquittal, the court said it applied the rule that “if the inculpatory facts and circumstances are capable of two or more explanations, one of which is consistent with the innocence of the accused and the other consistent with his guilt, then the evidence does not fulfill the test of moral certainty and is not sufficient to support a conviction.”

Diaz added that there was no admission and it was not proven in court that Bugayong fired his gun during the operation where Baltazar was killed. 

The case

Baltazar was shot and killed by the local cops on August 2, 2023, which the then-local city police chief later admitted as a lapse in protocol because there was no warning before firing at a person who later turned out to be a mistaken target. Charges were filed against the six cops within the same month or on August 28, 2023.

Baltazar’s case reached a verdict faster than the case of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, which remains to be the Philippine government’s trophy case as it projects to the international community that the local justice system is working. Delos Santos was 17 years old when he was killed like Baltazar, and his case resulted in a conviction of three local police after a year and three months on trial.

While the verdict was quick for Baltazar, the cases of killings of two other young men who were connected to him remain unsolved. Baltazar’s friends Daniel Soria, 20, was killed in September 2023, and John Rey Basie, 18, in October 2023.

Soria was killed by identified assailants in Malabon on September 2. When Soria was killed, Basie was with him but escaped death at the time after he hid underneath a vehicle. Basie was the target of the chase that killed Baltazar.

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But a month later, Basie was also found dead only a few kilometers where Baltazar was killed by the police. Basie sustained a gunshot wound in his head – a bullet pierced through the back of his head, and exited his chin, according to the police report.

Scrutiny of police conduct

Baltazar’s killing reignited scrutiny of police conduct, which was at the center of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs that is now being investigated at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Although President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. promised an overhaul in law enforcement operations, Baltazar’s killing tainted that promise because of the details that emerged. For one, although police procedures are very clear that the use of megaphones is prescribed to warn a suspect, police instead fired warning shots which is strictly prohibited.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun, who has examined the remains of drug war victims, also probed Baltazar’s corpse and found that the teen’s cause of death even had drowning as a “contributory cause.” Baltazar’s family said the then teen fell into the water after he was shot, and they only retrieved the body three hours later because the police prohibited them.

A Senate hearing led by opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed that a cop allegedly asked a witness to lie and say that Baltazar had illegal drugs.

The PNP initially said a reckless imprudence resulting in homicide complaint was filed against the six cops. However, upon checking by the Baltazar family and their counsel, no such complaint was filed against the cops. The family and their lawyers later pushed for a murder complaint, which was the subject of the Navotas court’s ruling. (READ: Why the PNP recommended dismissal of 8 cops in Jemboy Baltazar’s killing)

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

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Jairo Bolledo

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