EDITORIAL - Half-victory

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Half-victory

Occasionally, victims of the bloody crackdown on illegal drugs in the previous administration get justice. Last Tuesday, the Caloocan Regional Trial Court’s Branch 121 sentenced four former police officers to six to 10 years in prison for the killing of Luis Bonifacio and his son Gabriel on Sept. 15, 2016.

That was just the third month of the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, who had campaigned on a promise of eradicating the illegal drug scourge within six months. What happened to the Bonifacios is a grim reminder of that war on drugs, where victory could not be declared even after six years, as Duterte himself admitted.

Luis’ widow, Mary Ann Domingo, narrated that armed policemen barged into their home at past midnight. When they found Luis, they pointed a gun at him. He went down on his knees and pleaded for his life, with Gabriel refusing to leave his side. The police later dragged Mary Ann and her three other children out into the street. Gunshots rang out shortly. Mary Ann was told that Luis was dead; Gabriel was taken to a hospital but also died.

While Mary Ann was elated by the conviction, only four of the raiders were found guilty by Judge Ma. Rowena Violago Alejandria, and only for homicide instead of murder, as filed by the Office of the Ombudsman. The victims’ counsel described the court ruling as a “half-victory” while Mary Ann said she still hoped for “true justice.” Her family had filed charges of murder and robbery against 21 policemen. Only former police M/Sgt. Virgilio Cervantes along with Corporals Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre and Artemio Saguros Jr. were convicted. Each was also ordered to pay the victims’ family P100,000 in damages and civil indemnity.

Only a handful of cases involving Duterte’s bloody crackdown led to the conviction of police officers. The first conviction was on Nov. 29, 2018, when Caloocan cops Arnel Oares, Jeremiah Pereda and Jerwin Cruz were sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder of teenager Kian delos Santos. In 2022, former patrolmen Jeffrey Perez and Ricky Arquilita were found guilty of torture and planting of evidence in 2017 involving Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, and 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman. Arquilita died in detention; only Perez was convicted of murdering the two teenagers in March last year, and sentenced to life in prison.

The Philippine National Police has reported that over 6,000 people were killed in anti-narcotics operations during the Duterte presidency, mostly for allegedly resisting arrest. With only three cases leading to the conviction of killers, you can see why the International Criminal Court thinks it should step in and pursue a case for murder as a crime against humanity.

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