By Vann Marlo M. Villegas
OVER A YEAR after his death, a Caloocan City Court has found three policemen guilty of the Aug. 16, 2017, murder of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, the first conviction involving police officers in connection with the government’s war against illegal drugs.
Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 125 has sentenced Police Officer (PO) 3 Arnel G. Oares, PO1 Jeremias T. Pereda, and PO1 Jerwin R. Cruz to reclusion perpetua, or 20 to 40 years of imprisonment, without eligibility for parole.
However, they were acquitted of planting evidence/firearms and violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 as the prosecution failed to prove their guilt in these charges.
Judge Roldolfo P. Azucena, Jr. of Branch 125 directed the accused to indemnify the family of Mr. delos Santos in the amounts of P100,000 as civil indemnity, P100,000 as moral damages, P45,000 as actual damages, and P100,000 as exemplary damages.
In the decision, Mr. Azucena stated that the prosecution witnesses “positively identified” that Messrs. Pereda and Oares shot Mr. delos Santos in a dark alley while Mr. Cruz stood guard and did not prevent his co-officers from killing the minor.
The decision also stated that there is treachery as the accused deliberately attacked the victim and he was not given the opportunity to defend himself. “He was in a sitting position, covering his head with his hands and pleading, ‘Sir, huwag po’ (Sir, please don’t).”
“The court commiserates with our policemen who regularly thrust their lives in zones of danger in order to maintain peace and order and acknowledges the apprehension faced by their families whenever they go on duty. But the use of unnecessary force or wanton violence is not justified when the fulfilment of their duty as law enforcers can effected otherwise,” the decision read in part.
“A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civil society. Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement. The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life,” it added.
Mr. Oares claimed that they were conducting “One Time Big Time” Operation in Barangay 160, Libis Baesa, Caloocan City, when they were met by gunshots and he chased the gunman and retaliated by firing. Mr. Pereda denied that he shot the victim. However, closed-circuit television footage from the barangay showed the accused were manhandling the person.
Mr. Azucena ordered an alias warrant of arrest against police informant Renato P. Loveras who still remained at large.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said the conviction of the three cops “debunks the myth that there is a culture of impunity in the government’s war against drugs.”
Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams in a statement said the conviction is “a triumph of justice and accountability and a warning to members of the Philippine National Police to respect due process and the rights of civilians as they do their job.”
“But at the same time that we are heartened by this, we are also wary because Duterte has promised to pardon police officers convicted in the ‘drug war’ killings. There is reason to suspect that he will keep that promise,” he said. “This is why it remains important that the government create an independent commission to investigate these killings.”
Asked if there is assurance that the President will not pardon the police officers, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said: “Of course. You must remember that this is a murder, there is intention to kill; the President will never tolerate that. What he said was, ‘If you do it in accordance with your job, in the performance of your duty, then I will help you — not when you violate the law,’ that is what he said.”
Philippine National Police Director General Oscar D. Albayalde said the ruling is a reminder to the policemen to be “extra diligent” in their work.
“But this will not cause us to waiver a bit in our resolve to rid this society of the menace of illegal drugs. We will be equally resolute in standing behind our front line personnel toiling in this war while fully upholding the constitutional rights of everyone,” he said.
By Vann Marlo M. Villegas