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Thursday, December 7, 2023

‘It was murder’

THE family of slain 17-year-old student Kian Loyd delos Santos filed murder and torture complaints against Police Officer 3 Arnel Oares and Police Officers 1 Jeremias Pereda and Jerwin Cruz before the Justice Department Friday.

With the help of the Public Attorney’s Office, the family also included the policemen’s supervisor, Caloocan City Precinct 7 commander Chief Insp. Amor Cerillo, and several unidentified individuals in their complaint.

Kian, a Grade 11 student, was killed Aug. 16 in a city-wide anti-drug operation, with the policemen claiming the teenager had fired at them first, prompting them to shoot back and kill the boy.

But CCTV footage that showed Kian being dragged by two policemen, and eyewitnesses contradicted their account, and a police crime laboratory report said Kian had no gunpowder residue on either hand, indicating he had not fired a gun before he died.

In his complaint affidavit, Kian’s father Saldy said he had asked his son to clean their sari-sari store at 7 p.m. of Aug. 16, because he had to go out to buy supplies for their store. On his way home an hour later, a fruit vendor told him his son had been taken by the police.

He went to the Precinct 7 and was told nobody by Kian’s name had been arrested, so he went back home with his brother Randy. Upon arriving there, many people were already waiting outside and told them that his son was by the creek, dead.

Attached to the complaint were the testimony of witnesses, the final autopsy report, and photos from the autopsy.

PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said they have five witnesses, including those who saw Kian being dragged, choked and punched. The five witnesses are different from the three under the custody of Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Acosta said they could dispense with the 13- and 16-year-old witnesses under Hontiveros’ custody because they already have witnesses with the same testimony.

But they are still working out to get a third witness who saw the police give Kian a gun and told him to run.

WAKE-UP CALL. Three suspects (above) in the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos—PO1 Jeremias Pereda, PO1 Jerwin Cruz, and PO3 Arnel Oares from the Caloocan Police—during the public hearing Friday by the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs. The three face murder and torture raps. Priests, classmates and friends (below) offer prayers at Sta. Quiteria Parish in Caloocan City. Lino Santos/Andrew Rabulan

Justice Secretary Vitalliano Aguirre II on Friday said the evidence showed that there was foul play involved.

“Very clear, based on evidence, that there was foul play on the part of the policemen,” Aguirre said, in an interview.

Aguirre said the Justice Department condemns such acts by the police.

The Palace on Friday said Kian’s death at the hands of the police should spur reform in the corruption-laden agency.

“Kian’s case is a wake-up call for the need to reform government institutions, even law enforcement agencies—a challenge that the President voiced from the beginning of his campaign for the presidency,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.

The Palace official also reminded the police to consistently follow operational procedures as the war against drugs “is not a license to break the law.”

But the Philippine National Police asked the public to withhold judgment and allow due process to take its course in the case, after the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Agnes Callamard condemned the killing as murder.

“Let us allow the formal criminal investigations to proceed and not rush [to] conclusion[s] or judgment,” said PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos. 

Despite the public outrage of Kian’s killing, Abella said the war on drugs would continue.

“This incident, however, [will] not deter the administration from the task of reducing criminality and illegal drugs. The campaign against illegal drugs [will] continue. As the President has declared time and again, it will be pursued relentlessly,” he said.

“[The President] has already directed a fair and impartial investigation on the death of Kian delos Santos as he assures the public that he would not tolerate any illegal act or wrongdoing committed by erring policemen. Those found responsible would be held accountable before the law,” he said.

The PNP Internal Affairs Service, meanwhile, said it had a strong case against the policemen involved in Kian’s killing.

IAS Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo said the four policemen tagged had no legal basis to arrest Kian because by their own admission before the Senate, Kian was not the target of their anti-drug operation.

Triambulo said the lawmen also violated the police operational procedures when they accosted Kian when he was not committing any crime.

Triambulo said if there was any case against Kian, the policemen should have brought him to a waiting mobile patrol car at Barangay 160 and have him transported to Precinct 7.

The UN’s Callamard called for an investigation of “all unlawful deaths” in the Philippines’ war on drugs.

On her Twitter account, she wrote: “Yes, Pres. Duterte, this is murder. All unlawful deaths must be investigated.”

In another tweet, Callamard said that the autopsy results represent “a massive, government-led, human rights crisis.”

Callamard has been highly critical of the Duterte administration’s anti-drug war, which has claimed thousands of lives of suspected drug users and pushers.

Responding to the UN expert’s call, Communications Assistant Secretary Omar Alexander Romero said that Malacañang will let the ongoing investigation on Kian’s death proceed before they brand his death as “murder.”

“There is an ongoing investigation, so we will have to wait for the results,” Romero said.

“Until there is a finding by a competent court that it is murder, then we can agree. But, we look forward to the results of the impartial investigation on this incident,” he added.

The Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson has begun an investigation into the killing.

But testifying before the Senate earlier this week, the police officers involved said it was not Kian that they were seen dragging in the CCTV footage, but an informant who did not want to have his cover blown.

Amnesty International said the Senate hearing Thursday exposed the “abysmal failings of the police” to protect children from the deadly consequences of the bloody war on drugs.

“Kian’s death has rightly sparked a national outcry and public trust in the police is at an all-time low. The only way to address this is for the Philippine authorities to end all deadly drug operations, and return to an approach anchored on due process and rule of law,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“Past Senate hearings on the ‘war on drugs’ have led to little meaningful action by police or Philippine authorities. Today’s session cannot become just another talking shop, it must be the first step towards genuine change,” he added.

The rights group likewise slammed Aguirre’s pronouncements calling Kian’s death an “isolated case” and that “collateral damage” was inevitable in the bloody drug war.

“Secretary Aguirre’s comments are not only callous and cynical, they are simply untrue. There is no question that many children have paid the ultimate price for the police’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ approach—and many more will unless the ‘war on drugs’ is ended,” Gomez said.

“Those suspected to be responsible for Kian’s death must be brought to justice. We urge the government to allow for a prompt and thorough investigation by an independent body, such as the Office of the Ombudsman. But investigation into one death is not enough, there must be the same level of accountability for all police killings,” he added.

Carlos, the PNP spokesman, said the police involved in the case are considered innocent until proven otherwise in court.

He also said Kian’s case did “not represent the entire anti-drug campaign of the PNP.”

Also on Friday, Hontiveros refused to turn over witnesses under her custody to the Justice Department’s Witness Protection Program, and called instead for Aguirre to inhibit himself from investigating the case.

Aguirre had earlier said that the witnesses under Hontiveros’ custody were no longer credible because of the senator’s anti-government bias.

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon agreed that Aguirre had shown he was not impartial in his handling of the case.

He also said Aguirre’s statements criticizing groups or individuals for expressing outrage of the death of Kian while not doing the same for the victims of drug addicts showed he was biased. With Vito Barcelo

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