Explainer: Why were lighter penalties given to cops involved in Jemboy slay?

Ian Laqui - Philstar.com
Explainer: Why were lighter penalties given to cops involved in Jemboy slay?
Police secure former police officers accused of killing Jemboy Baltazar during the promulgation of the case at the Navotas Regional Trial Court yesterday. At right, Baltazar’s mother, Rhoda, laments the light penalty.
The STAR / Ernie Peñaredondo

MANILA, Philippines — Six months after the shooting of 17-year-old Jehrode "Jemboy" Baltazar, mistakenly identified, the Navotas City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 286 issued the conviction of five involved police officers on Tuesday.

However, Baltazar's family believes the court's decision falls short of delivering justice for their son's killing, citing the lighter penalties imposed by the court on the involved cops.

“Lima silang makakalaya, isa lang 'yung maconvict tapos apat na taon lang. Pero 'yung anak ko habambuhay siyang wala na,” Jemboy’s mother, Rodaliza Baltazar said in a press conference at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday. 

(Five of them will be released and only one will be convicted and sentenced to just four years. But my child will be gone forever.)

The DOJ in the same press conference vowed that it will exhaust all legal remedies to secure a murder conviction before the Court of Appeals (CA). 

It could be recalled that the Justice department indicted the six cops on the charge of murder due to the incident.

"Marami po tayong mga nakitang mga areas at arguments doon sa desisyon na pwede na nating i-argue on appeal. Isa na po diyan 'yung conspiracy, 'yung isa 'yung intent to kill, 'yung reasonableness of the action taken by the police and the reaction that the police had noong medyo patakas si Jemboy," he added. 

(We have seen many areas and arguments in the decision that we can now argue during the appeal. One of those is conspiracy, another is intent to kill, the reasonableness of the action taken by the police, and the reaction of the police when Jemboy was trying to escape.)

The involved officers, six out of the eight who participated in the operation in Barangay North Bay Boulevard South Kaunlaran resulting in Baltazar's death, include PSSg. Gerry Maliban, PEMS. Roberto Balais Jr., PSSg. Nikko Esquilon, PCpl. Edmard Jade Blanco, Patrolman Benedict Mangada and PSSG. Antonio Bugayong.

Maliban received a conviction for homicide, while Balais, Esquilon, Blanco and Mangada were charged with illegal discharge of firearms. The court acquitted Bugayong of all charges.

Homicide, not murder

Murder, as defined by the Revised Penal Code (RPC), has its circumstances that need to be “fulfilled” to consider the crime as such.

Article 248 of the RPC outlines the criteria for categorizing an action as murder, defining the circumstances that warrant such classification.

1. With treachery, taking advantage of superior strength, with the aid of armed men, or employing means to weaken the defense or of means or persons to insure or afford impunity.

2. In consideration of a price, reward, or promise.

3. By means of inundation, fire, poison, explosion, shipwreck, stranding of a vessel, derailment or assault upon a street car or locomotive, fall of an airship, by means of motor vehicles, or with the use of any other means involving great waste and ruin.

4. On occasion of any of the calamities enumerated in the preceding paragraph, or of an earthquake, eruption of a volcano, destructive cyclone, epidemic or other public calamity.

5. With evident premeditation.

6. With cruelty, by deliberately and inhumanly augmenting the suffering of the victim, or outraging or scoffing at his person or corpse.

Maliban was convicted of homicide by the RTC, even though he was initially charged with murder by the DOJ.

The RTC explained that Maliban could not have "employed means, methods or forms of the execution of the crime" despite him firing the gun, which matched the bullet cartridge found in the boat involved in the incident.

“This is because the urge to shoot the victim materialized only when the victim attempted to escape and PSSg. Malaban aimed his shot at him instantly,” the court’s decision read.

The court also explained clarified that Maliban was in the performance of his duty as a police officer.

“There is no doubt that PSSg. Maliban was performing his duty during that fatal incident of Aug. 2, 2023. He went to the river because his assistance was sought by the Officer in Charge of Sub-Station 4, Navotas City Police Station to arrest a suspect of a crime,” the court’s decision read. 

One of the justifying circumstances outlined in Article 11 of the RPC, which may exempt or mitigate an individual from criminal liability, is when a person "acts in the fulfillment of a duty or the lawful exercise of a right or office."

The court also explained that Maliban surrendered to authorities on Oct. 3, 2023 before the arrest warrant was issued.

Article 13, paragraph 7 of the RPC stipulates that an offender who has voluntarily surrendered before the authorities may have their penalties mitigated. 

That the offender had voluntarily surrendered himself to a person in authority or his agents, or that he had voluntarily confessed his guilt before the court prior to the presentation of the evidence for the prosecution.

Due to the homicide conviction, Maliban will only face a penalty of four to six years of imprisonment, a lesser sentence compared to the 20 to 40 years associated with a murder charge.

Five cops freed

The four cops, Balais, Esquilon, Blanco and Mangada, received a four-month imprisonment sentence for the charge of illegal discharge of firearms.

The court explained that the four police officers did not conspire with Maliban and did not have an intent to kill the victim.

“As we found that these accused did not conspire with PSSg. Maliban in shooting Jemboy and that they lacked the intention to kill the victim as shown by their acts of firing their guns in the water just in front of them, they are only liable in Illegal Discharge of Firearms,” the court’s decision read. 

The Navotas RTC stated that a total of five cops would be released despite the conviction.

In addition to Bugayong's acquittal, the four cops are set to be released as they have already served the sentence imposed by the court during their preventive detention.

“If after crediting their preventive imprisonment, the said accused have already served the sentence imposed upon them here, it behooves upon him to release from detention…unless any of them is being held for some lawful cause,” the court’s decision read.

The RTC cited Article 29 of the RPC, which deducts the time of the accused has spent during a preventive imprisonment to the penalty imposed by the court.

The police officers surrendered before the authorities on Oct. 3, 2023, which makes the duration of their preventive detention and the promulgation of more than four months.

Challenging the court ruling

In a press briefing on Tuesday, DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano said that they will appeal before the CA, with the help of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), instead of filing a motion for reconsideration (MR) in the same court.

The DOJ official explained that an MR would exclude Maliban from the case as he was already acquitted. 

“Kapag i-MR (motion for reconsideration) mo agad ‘yon, 'yung isa (Maliban) wala na,” Clavano said in an interview with reporters on the sidelines.

(If you file a motion for reconsideration immediately, the other party (except for Maliban) will be excluded from the case.)

Clavano said that the OSG may file an appeal before the appellate court to assail the decision of the Navotas RTC.

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