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SC upholds homicide raps vs 4 cops

Daphne Galvez - The Philippine Star
SC upholds homicide raps vs 4 cops

In 2016 drug bust deaths of man, son

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld a resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman to charge only four of 21 police officers with homicide for the killing of Luis Bonifacio and his son Gabriel in a drug bust in 2016.

In a 22-page ruling dated Oct. 11, 2023 and released on Monday, the SC’s Third Division dismissed a petition by Bonifacio’s widow, Mary Ann Domingo, that sought to indict the 21 Caloocan police officers on two counts of murder.

The SC’s Third Division affirmed the order of the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (OMB-MOLEO) finding probable cause to charge M/Sgt. Virgilio Cervantes and Cpls. Arnel de Guzman, Johnson Alacre and Artemio Saguros Jr. with two counts of homicide.

The ruling was written by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting, with Associate Justices Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, Samuel Gaerlan and Japar Dimaampao concurring.

On his knees

In her petition, Domingo said that on Sept. 14, 2016, she, her husband and their three minor children were about to sleep when her son Gabriel arrived.

A few minutes later, Domingo said a family friend arrived and asked her daughter if Luis was in the house.

A group of armed policemen then barged into their home, went to the second floor and she and her children were forced at gunpoint to go downstairs, according to Domingo.

The petitioner said she saw her husband on his knees, guns pointed at his head, while Gabriel pleaded with policemen not to hurt his father.

Domingo said she heard gunshots, prompting her to run to the nearest barangay hall for help. Village officials told her they could not interfere because it was an anti-drug operation.

She later learned her husband and son were brought to a hospital where they were declared dead.

Domingo denied allegations that her husband, who once served as a barangay peacekeeper, and her son, a waiter, were involved in the illegal drug trade.

The policemen maintained they were conducting a legitimate drug bust and claimed that Luis and Gabriel ran up to the house, took up their firearms and fired at them.

The two men died from gunshot wounds at the hospital shortly after they were admitted, police said.

No proof of murder

The OMB-MOLEO dismissed the charges of murder and robbery filed by Domingo in 2017 against the 21 police officers, but found probable cause to charge four of them with two counts of homicide.

In denying Domingo’s petition, the SC held that the OMB-MOLEO did not act with grave abuse of discretion when it found there was no “clear and convincing evidence that the police operation was conceived to kill the unsuspecting deceased.”

The High Court said the policemen’s superior numbers in relation to the target is practical since it would deter most people from resisting with violence.

The SC said Domingo’s claim that the operation was a case of “tokhang” meant to kill Luis and Gabriel is a “mere opinion.”

The term “tokhang” is derived from Operation Plan “Tuktok Hangyo,” a plan ordered by then president Rodrigo Duterte to combat the illegal drug trade. It involved police officers visiting the homes of suspected users and dealers to persuade them to surrender.

The term later became used to describe deaths linked to the war against illegal drugs declared by Duterte.

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