3 cops guilty of Kian delos Santos murder

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
3 cops guilty of Kian delos Santos murder
PO3 Arnel Oares is escorted by an officer to a police vehicle after he and PO1 Jeremias Pereda and PO1 Jerwin Cruz (left) received life sentences at the Caloocan regional trial court yesterday for the killing of teenager Kian delos Santos.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Three Caloocan City policemen were sentenced yesterday to life in prison for murdering a teenager during a drug sting in 2017.

Police Officer 3 Arnel Oares and PO1s Jeremias Pereda and Jerwin Cruz were found guilty of killing 17-year-old Kian Lloyd delos Santos during an anti-narcotics sweep in Baesa, Caloocan City on Aug. 16, 2017.

Caloocan Regional Trial Court Branch 125 Judge Rodolfo Azucena sentenced the three policemen to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The three, however, were acquitted of the charges of planting evidence to make it appear the victim resisted arrest for possessing illegal drugs.

Delos Santos’ family broke down in tears in the cramped courtroom after the three policemen were convicted of murder and sentenced to reclusion perpetua, which carries a minimum of 20 years behind bars.

“I feel so happy because this proves that my son was innocent and was never involved in drugs,” Delos Santos’ mother Lorenza told reporters.

“(Policemen) can be jailed for life if they do not stop their abusive practices,” she added.

In the 35-page decision, the court took into consideration the testimony of witnesses, among them a 14-year-old girl and an elderly resident who saw the three police officers and a police asset, identified as Renato Loveraz, drag Delos Santos from his house to a dark alley where he was killed.

Police claimed the 17-year-old was a drug courier who fired at them while resisting arrest. However, security video footage showed two of the policemen dragging the unarmed Delos Santos moments before he was shot dead in a pig pen.

Witnesses tagged Oares and Pereda as the killers while Cruz only watched and did not stop the killing.

“The three all acted in furtherance of their common design and purpose – to kill the victim,” the court said.

The witnesses said they heard Delos Santos begging for his life. “Tama na po, may exam po ako bukas,” pleaded the victim, who was seen kneeling before he was shot.

“The time and place, and manner of attack were deliberately chosen, and the accused was immediately cloaked with impunity to ensure its successful execution,” the court said.

“A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society. Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement. The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life,” the court added.

The court dismissed the police claim that the victim tried to shoot his way out to evade arrest.

The court noted the victim’s hands yielded negative results for traces of gunpowder.

The court dismissed the accusation of planting evidence against the three policemen, saying the prosecution failed to back up the claims.

The court said the testimonies that a firearm and drugs were planted on Delos Santos were “hearsay in nature.”

“No other evidence, whether testimonial or documentary, has been adduced by the prosecution to establish the fact that the accused planted the firearm and prohibited drugs, respectively. In criminal cases, the prosecution has the onus probandi of establishing the guilt of the accused,” the court said.

The court also archived the charges of murder and planting charges against Loveraz, who managed to evade arrest. An alias warrant was issued against him.

Murder has no place

It was the first conviction of police officers carrying out President Duterte’s war on drugs.

Drug war critics hailed the conviction as an example of justice and accountability, which they said have been rare since Duterte unleashed the campaign to rid the country of narcotics in 2016.

Since then police said they have killed nearly 5,000 alleged drug users and pushers who fought against arrest, while rights groups said the true toll is at least triple that and may amount to crimes against humanity.

Duterte’s drug war is supported by a majority of Filipinos fed up with high crime rates and a slow-moving judicial system.

But the death of Delos Santos, as well as of two other Manila teenagers accused of robbing a taxi driver, triggered rare street protests in 2017 and highlighted concerns about police abuse.

Days after the killing Duterte said in a speech: “It was really bad. That was really not performance of duty. Do not commit a crime.”

The Caloocan City court apparently took notice of Duterte’s concern, in saying “murder has no place” in the performance of duty.

“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 (be) effected otherwise,” it said.

Smarting over the conviction of his men, Caloocan City police chief Senior Supt. Restituto Archangel said they would respect the decision of the court but would continue their campaign against illegal drugs in the city.

Archangel downplayed the effect of the decision on the morale of Caloocan policemen.

Following the spate of murders, the entire Caloocan police force was relieved and ordered subjected for retraining.

Caloocan policemen were also involved in the killing of 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman. The case remains pending before the Navotas regional trial court.

The two teenagers were killed in what police claimed was a shootout after Arnaiz supposedly tried to rob a taxi driver.

Prosecutors said Arnaiz was executed in a similar style on Aug. 18, 2017, two days after Delos Santos was killed.

De Guzman’s body, on the other hand, was found floating in a river in Nueva Ecija.  –  With AFP

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