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 said.
“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,” Panelo said.
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 their duties.”
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 pardon.
“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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