A Caloocan City court has found three policemen guilty for murder over the death of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos last year, the first judgment in a high-profile case involving cops implementing President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
In a decision promulgated Thursday, Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr. convicted Police Officer 3 Arnel Oares and Police Officers 1 Jeremias Pereda, and Jerwin Cruz of the crime of murder.
They were sentenced to reclusion perpetua “without eligibility of parole” and ordered to pay Delos Santos’ family P100,000 in civil indemnity; P100,000 in moral damages; P45,000 in actual damages and P100,000 in exemplary damages.
But the court acquitted the cops on the charge of planting of evidence and of illegal drugs charges for the prosecution's failure to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The case against Renato Perez Loveras, the police asset who claimed Delos Santos was a drug runner, was ordered archived pending his arrest. The judge directed the issuance of an alias warrant of arrest against him.
Judge Azucena, of the Caloocan Regional Trial Court Branch 125, oversaw the six-month trial of the accused over the minor’s death on August 16, 2017, a tale of alleged police abuse that triggered public outcry against Duterte’s brutal anti-illegal drugs campaign.
The police said they killed Delos Santos in self-defense, after the student allegedly resisted arrest by firing at them during a local anti-drug operation. CCTV camera footage and witness accounts later challenged their claims.
In his 35-page decision, the judge gave weight to the positive identification of the accused policemen by the prosecution's witnesses. It was Oares and Pereda who shot Delos Santos while Cruz stood guard, he wrote.
"From the foregoing, at the time of the attack, there was no opportunity for Kian, a 17-year-old minor, to defend himself. He was in a sitting position, covering his head with his hands pleading, 'Sir, huwag po,'" he decided.
The judge also wrote that the trajectory of the bullets reveal that the killers were positioned higher than the victim, which means Delos Santos was "in a kneeling or sitting position."
And it was not a shootout, either, as claimed by Oares, who said he chased a gunman and retaliated by firing from a distances of six meters.
Citing prosecution witnesses' testimonies, the court said physical evidence shows the gunshots to the minor's head were fired from two feet away. He added: Delos Santos' hands tested negative for gunpowder nitrates, and the shots were caused by two persons.
Pereda and Cruz's alibi and denial also failed to convince the court of their innocence.
While the court "commiserates" with policeman who risk their lives to maintain peace, it ruled that "the use of unnecessary force or wanton violence is not justified" when they can fulfill their duty otherwise.
"A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society. Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement," Azucena wrote.
"The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life."
Delos Santos’ death was closely followed by the killings of two other youths —Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.
The double murder case in connection with their deaths were refiled before a Navotas court earlier in the year. — LBG/RSJ, GMA News