By Minka Klaudia Tiangco
The Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) found the three police officers tagged in the killing of Kian Loyd delos Santos guilty of murder and not guilty of planting of evidence on Thursday morning.
Police Officer (PO) 3 ArnelOares, PO1 JeremiasPereda, and PO1 Jerwin Cruz were sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua without eligibility of parole by Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr. of the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 125. They were also ordered to pay the Delos Santos family P100,000 as civil indemnity; P100,000 as moral damages; P45,000 as actual damages; and P100,000 as exemplary damages, with interest on all damages. But the charges of planting evidence and illegal drugs against the three Caloocan City policemen were dismissed as the prosecution only presented hearsay as evidence.
“The court commiserates with our policemen who regularly thrust their lives in zones of danger… but the use of unnecessary force or wanton violence is not justified when the fulfillment of their duty as law enforcers can be effected otherwise,” Azucena’s 35-page decision read.
No to ‘shoot first, think later attitude’
“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,” he added.
Azucena said the act of the three policemen was premeditated because Delos Santos was not given a chance to defend himself.
The element of treachery was also present because even as Delos Santos cried out,“Sir, huwagpo,” the suspects still shot him.
The court found that Oares and Pereda were the ones who shot Delos Santos while Cruz stood as lookout.
Since “they all acted in furtherance of their common design and purpose, i.e. to kill the victim,” all of them were charged with murder, Azucena said in his decision.
Meanwhile, the case against Renato Loveraz, alias “Nonong,” the police informant who tagged Delos Santos as a drug runner, was ordered archived pending his arrest.
“Let an alias warrant be issued for his arrest,” Azucena ordered.
No pardon – Palace
Presidential spokesman Salvador Paneloassured the public that the three police officers found guilty for the murder of Kian will not be pardoned by President Duterte despite the Chief Executive’s repeated pronouncements to do such.
Oares, Pereda, and Cruz are the first policemen to be convicted in President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
After hearing the decision, Kian’s father and unclesSaldy and Randy Delos Santos embraced each other and broke into tears.
Oares and Pereda sat stone-faced while Cruz and his wife, both in tears, leaned on each other.
How it happened
It was recalled that on the night of August 16, 2017, 17-year-old Delos Santos was killed by police officers during a “One Time, Big Time” anti-illegal drugs operation in a dark alley in Barangay 160, LibisBaesa, Caloocan City.
Police alleged that Kian engaged them in a shootout after he resisted arrest, which led to his death. A caliber .45 pistol and sachets of suspected shabu were also found in his possession, police added.
But eyewitnesses and close-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed a different version of events.
Three eyewitnesses said they saw Delos Santos being dragged by armed policemen along dark alleys toward Tullahan River minutes before he was shot.
One witness said she saw the police punched and slapped the teen. They also handed him a gun and ordered him to fire it and run. When he refused, the police gunned him down.
Medico-legal experts found that Delos Santos was shot thrice – twice in his head and once on his back. The teen may have been sitting or kneeling when he was shot based on the trajectory of the bullets, they added.
Various organizations launched investigations on the matter and on August 25, 2017, Saldy and Lorenza Delos Santos, the 17-year-old’s parents, filed murder and torture charges before the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The respondents were Oares, Pereda, Cruz, Loveraz, Chief Inspector Amor Cerillo, and several John Does.
On January 29, the DOJ ordered the filing of murder and planting of evidence charges against Oares, Pereda, and Cruz. The Caloocan RTC Branch 125 ordered the arrest of the three cops less than a month after.
During the trial, Azucena denied the defense’s bid to avoid presenting its own evidence and its manifestation to file a demurrer of evidence, which is a motion to dismiss the case based on the prosecution’s insufficient evidence.
Oares testified that he was the only one who shot Delos Santos after the bullet that killed the 17-year-old was traced back to his issued service firearm and he tested positive for gunpowder nitrates.
Meanwhile, Pereda and Cruz insisted that the boy they pulled along the alley was not Delos Santos, but a police asset named “JR” who was pointing them to an alleged pot session.
The two denied shooting the teen, noting that the ballistic examination done on their firearms showed they did not fire it and they tested negative for gunpowder nitrates.
Be extra diligent, cops told
Despite the conviction of the three Caloocan City policemen, the Philippine National Police (PNP) will not back down from the campaign against illegal drugs.
Director General Oscar Albayalde, PNP chief, said he sees the conviction as a reminder to his men to be “extra diligent” in fulfilling the requirements of the law in the conduct of operations.
“But this will not cause us to waver a bit in our resolve to rid this society of the menace of illegal drugs,” said Albayalde in a statement.
Justice Secretary MenardoGuevarra hailed the conviction, saying it “debunks the myth that there is a culture of impunity in the government’s war against drugs.”
Justice system still works
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David welcomed the conviction, saying the decision is a sign that the justice system still works in the country.
“Thank God! It is one good sign that the justice system in the country still works,” he told Church-run Radio Veritas.
Opposition Senator RisaHontiveros said the court decision is an indication of hope and light in the darkness.
“Despite the gruesome climate of killing and impunity in the country, this verdict sends the message that there is hope and justice. And we will fight for more light and truth until the darkness cannot overcome them,” she said. (With reports from Aaron B. Recuenco, Jeffrey G. Damicog, Argyll B. Geducos, Leslie Ann B. Aquino, and Mario B. Casayuran)