MANILA: It was the first conviction in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
The Caloocan City regional trial court branch 125 found police officers
Arnel Oares, Jeremias Pereda and Jerwin Cruz guilty of killing
17-year-old Kian Delos Santos during an anti-drug operation August last
year in a northern suburb in the capital Manila. They were sentenced to
reclusion perpetua, equivalent to 20 to 40 years in prison.
In a press briefing in Malacanang, Duterte’s spokesperson, Salvador
Panelo, hailed the court decision, which he called a “triumph of
justice” in the country.
“It shows that this country has a robust judicial system,” Panelo said.
He also said that the recent development proves the administration’s
commitment to go after policemen who abuse their authority and violate
the law, an assurance which the president himself made when he first
declared his war on drugs.
Panelo said that in Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address when he
declared war on drugs, the president made it clear “that those who will
abuse their authority will have hell to pay.”
“And in this particular case of Kian, if you’ll recall, it was the
president who ordered immediately the relief, the arrest, and the
detention of the policemen involved immediately after he viewed the
video showing that obviously there was salvage in that incident,” said
Panelo, who is also Duterte’s chief legal counsel.
Asked whether the president would be inclined to grant a pardon to the three policemen, Panelo said it would be unlikely.
“You must remember that this is murder. There is intention to kill ...
We give the assurance that the president will never tolerate any
intentional killings against civilians by the men in uniform,” Panelo
“What he said was if you (policemen) do it in accordance with your job
in the performance of your duty then I will help you, not when you
violate that law,” he said.
Panelo said that the conviction of the three policemen was testament to
the fact that the country had a working judicial system, as opposed to
the claims of critics that the Duterte administration has no capacity to
bring criminals to justice.
He also lauded the government’s prosecution team for the speedy resolution of the case.
“This is a six-month trial. And this is a record in heinous crimes like
the case of Kian. It took them only six months to finish the case,”
Meanwhile, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director General Oscar
Albayalde said that the Delos Santos case served as a reminder for the
rest of PNP personnel to be extra diligent in fulfilling the
requirements of the law as they serve and protect the citizenry.
“But this will not cause us to waiver a bit in our resolve to rid this
society of the menace of illegal drugs,” Albayalde said, adding that the
PNP respects the court’s decision.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said that the conviction of the officers
involved in the Delos Santos case should serve as a warning to policemen
“to be worthy of their badges and always uphold the law as they perform
Human rights groups welcomed the court decision, but at the same time
called on the government to step up its efforts in delivering justice
for all victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the country.
“We welcome the trial court’s conviction of Kian’s killers and thank all
those who assisted in securing justice in this case — particularly the
courageous eye witnesses, the church workers, and human rights defenders
who offered sanctuary, and the investigators and prosecutors who
performed their duty,” said Jose Luis Martin Gascon, chairperson of the
Philippines Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
“We call on the government to step up their efforts in delivering
justice for all victims of EJKs by ensuring that all perpetrators are
apprehended and charged,” he said.
An international rights watchdog also lauded the court decision but
expressed concern that the police officers might get a presidential
“The court’s verdict today finding three police officers guilty in the
August 2017 murder of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos is particularly
important because it is the first conviction of state agents implicated
in a 'drug war' killing. This 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,” said Brad
Adams, Asia director, Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“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. This is why it remains important that the government create an
independent commission to investigate these killings,” he said.
The HRW noted that Duterte’s brutal drug war has not spared children,
many of them dying at the hands of police during anti-drug operations.
“They were either targeted or were simply caught in the cross-fire as
police officers raided homes and communities. Most of these killings
have not been investigated by the authorities,” Adams said.
“The police said that it has killed 5,000 during its anti-drug
operations — that’s a lot of deaths that need to be thoroughly and
independently investigated. This also underscores the need for the
International Criminal Court to take further action on the complaints
against Duterte,” he said.
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