By Karl Romano
The Philippines filed murder charges Monday against three police officers who allegedly killed a 17-year-old boy last year, leading to massive street protests and forcing President Rodrigo Duterte to strip police temporarily of a frontline role in anti-drug operations.
There was substantial evidence that officers Arnel Oares, Jerwin Cruz and Jeremias Pereda had murdered Kian Loyd delos Santos in August, the Department of Justice said in court papers.
“Forensic results from the PNP [Philippine National Police] and the PAO [Public Attorney’s Office] prove an indisputable conclusion that Kian was shot while in a somewhat kneeling/fetal position,” the justice department said in its filing at a lower court in the northern Manila suburb of Caloocan.
The department cited testimony by several witnesses, including a minor, who said they saw the officers drag the boy away before they shot him at point-blank range. It described their testimonies as “extremely significant” considering that delos Santos did not appear to show any signs of being aggressive while being taken away.
Witnesses also directly contradicted claims by police that the boy was shot and killed because he fought back during his arrest.
Duterte repeatedly said that he would back police accused of murder if they fired back in self-defense, and he would also pardon those officers who were convicted.
The killing of delos Santos unleashed widespread anger in the Philippines, with the politically influential Catholic Church leading a massive street protest during the teen’s funeral march.
Two other teenagers were killed in later police operations, causing sustained street protests that eventually forced Duterte to suspend the national police as the lead agency in his government’s crackdown on narcotics.
But four months later, in December, he reinstated the police in a prominent role in the drug war, ignoring ongoing calls by both local and international rights groups who demanded accountability.
The crackdown since Duterte took office in June 2016 has left nearly 4,000 alleged pushers and addicts dead, according to official statistics by the police. But rights groups, led by the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have put the death toll at about 12,000.
Cristina Palabay, leader of the Filipino rights group Karapatan, stressed that the killings must stop.
“The filing of murder charges against police involved in the murder of Kian delos Santos is a welcome development,” she told BenarNews. “However, Duterte’s war on drugs has ravaged many Kians and other poor youths and communities.”
She said the case should be a reminder “that justice is something that is not given, most often it is denied.”
“It is imperative that the killings vis-a-vis the war on drugs should stop,” she said.
Tindig Pilipinas, a broad coalition of groups opposed to the government’s war on drugs, also called on Manila to stop the bloodletting.
“It is a murderous failed policy,” the group said. “Without respect for human rights, without regard for the rule of law, it will continue to be bloody and anti-poor.”
Felipe Villamor in Manila and Mark Navales in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.