An international human rights group on Thursday welcomed the conviction of three Caloocan City policemen in the killing of a teenager last year but expressed doubt that justice would be served because President Duterte had promised to pardon authorities who would be convicted in his bloody war on drugs.
The presidential palace, however, said Duterte would never tolerate police officers who “intentionally kill.”
The Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) on Thursday found PO3 Arnel Oares, PO1 Jeremias Pereda and PO1 Jerwin Cruz guilty of murder in the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos in a drug raid on Aug. 16, 2017.
Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr. of RTC Branch 125 sentenced them to up to 40 years in prison, without parole.
Reason to suspect
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it considered the court ruling a “triumph of justice and accountability” but noted that Mr. Duterte had promised that he would never allow policemen and soldiers to go to jail if they would be convicted in the killing of drug suspects.
“There is reason to suspect that he will keep that promise,” Brad Adams, HRW Asia director, said in a statement.
Reminded by presidential palace reporters of that promise, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the case of Delos Santos was “murder,” meaning “there was an intention to kill.”
“I don’t think the President will pardon them,” Panelo said.
“What the President said was: ‘If you do it in accordance with your job, in the performance of your duty, then I will help you . . . not when you violate the law,’” he said.
“We give assurance that the President will never tolerate any intentional killing against civilians from the men in uniform,” he added.
Panelo recalled that the President, in his addresses to Congress, had warned policemen who would abuse their authority in his war on drugs would “have hell to pay.”
‘Triumph of justice’
He hailed the court’s decision as a “triumph of justice” and said it showed the country had a “robust judicial system.”
According to HRW, the ruling showed that Duterte’s war on drugs had not spared children.
“[The child victims] were either targeted or were simply caught in the crossfire as police officers raided homes and communities. Most of these killings have not been investigated by the authorities,” Adams said.
HRW called anew for an independent commission to investigate the killings.
“The police [say they have] killed 5,000 during antidrug operations. That’s a lot of deaths that need to be thoroughly and independently investigated,” Adams said.
Vice President Leni Robredo praised the Caloocan court for its ruling, but said it confirmed that the war on drugs had innocent victims.
How many are innocent?
“We wish to reiterate the question we have been posing all along: How many of the thousands killed [in] the drug war [are], like Kian, without fault?” Robredo said.
Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon cited the contributions of witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, church workers and human rights advocates to the case that led to the three policemen’s conviction.
“We call on the government to step up their efforts in delivering justice for all victims of [extrajudicial killings] by ensuring that all perpetrators are apprehended and charged,” Gascon said in a statement.
Human rights group Karapatan said the conviction might be a “small victory” in the quest for justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings but it was a “triumph of truth over lies spewed by the police.”