EDITORIAL - One down, thousands more to go

The Philippine Star

On the 13th anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre yesterday, two families at least received justice, although in an unrelated case. The Caloocan City Regional Trial Court convicted former police officer Jeffrey Perez for torturing, killing and planting evidence on teenagers Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.

Perez was sentenced to life in prison. RTC Judge Rodrigo Pascua Jr. also ordered Perez to pay the families of each of his victims P2 million in damages. Perez’s co-defendant, patrolman Ricky Arquilita, died in jail of suspected Hepatitis B in April 2019.

Adjudication of the celebrated case took much longer than the year-long trial that led to the conviction in 2018 of three police officers for the execution of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos. The COVID lockdowns reportedly slowed down the court proceedings. Still, the guilty verdict is welcome news for relatives of the victims in one of the most brutal cases related to the bloody campaign against illegal drugs waged by the Duterte administration.

Arnaiz, 19, a student of the University of the Philippines, went missing on the night of Aug. 17, 2017. His remains were found at a funeral home in Caloocan 11 days later. Police claimed he had robbed a taxi driver and had fired at responding policemen, prompting them to shoot him. De Guzman, 14, was with Arnaiz and was believed silenced by the police. Weeks later, De Guzman’s body was found floating in a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija. His face and body bore 25 stab wounds and signs of severe beating. His head was found wrapped in plastic and packing tape while his legs were wrapped in a sack.

The Philippine National Police has reported over 6,200 drug suspects killed in anti-narcotics operations since July 2016, ostensibly for resisting arrest and fighting back or nanlaban. Human rights groups believe most of the killings were unwarranted and have demanded a thorough investigation.

The International Criminal Court wants to proceed with a full-blown probe of Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, including from the years when he was mayor of Davao City, to determine if he had sanctioned crimes against humanity. Duterte has denied any state-sanctioned systematic abuse of human rights in his campaign.

Only a thorough probe will unearth the truth, and give justice to victims. The Department of Justice is currently continuing a review started in the previous administration of possible abuses in the 6,200 drug deaths. The handling of the cases of Kian de los Santos, Carl Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman should be the norm rather than the exception.


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