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Kian’s death proved allegations of EJKs, say kin

(Last of two parts)

When news of the murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos spread, his family didn’t know how to cope with being in the limelight.

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For the destitute Delos Santoses of Barangay 160, Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City, temporarily masking their grief would prove to be easier than confronting the arduous legal battle that they did not know lay ahead.

Despite the national outrage over Kian’s death, his family feared that he would be another name in a police report in the almost nightly killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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One of Kian’s uncles, Randy delos Santos, believes divine intervention may help the family obtain justice.

He said the morning after his nephew’s death on Aug. 16, 2017, he went back to the alley where the boy was shot by a member of the Santa Quiteria police station during a “One-Time, Big-Time” drug operation.

CCTV footage

Randy, a brother of Kian’s father, said that while he was walking alone, waiting for his nephew’s body to arrive from the morgue, he saw a closed-circuit TV (CCTV) camera.

“I do not know why I raised my head, why I looked up and saw the CCTV,” he recalled. “In the back of my head, something was urging me: ‘Randy, there’s a CCTV. Go to the barangay, watch the video.’ I didn’t know how I did it, but I checked even the time stamp and it matched. Everything fell right into place.”

The CCTV footage showed Kian being dragged by three men in plainclothes, who were later identified as Caloocan police officers, to a dead-end street near a basketball court in the neighborhood. The scene disputed earlier police claims that he had resisted and fled.

It became an important piece of evidence in the murder trial of the three officers — PO1 Jeremias Pereda, PO1 Jerwin Cruz and PO3 Arnel Oares — who also were accused of planting evidence on Kian.

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At least six witnesses testified in court that the officers handed Kian a gun, told him to run, and shot him at close range.

The trial, which lasted nearly six months, was concluded in August. The Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) is set to hand down its decision today.

Extrajudicial killings

“You know what they say, sometimes the Holy Spirit guides us. Sometimes God makes us work in ways that we may never understand, but are according to His plan,” Randy said.

For the Delos Santos family, Kian’s case proved allegations of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the drug war. But aside from divine providence, they also needed the law to side with their version of the truth.

The legal process also has brought unsettling changes to Kian’s family.

Shortly after Kian’s death, his father, Saldy, and mother, Lorenza, were transferred to a safe house under the Department of Justice witness protection program, separating them from the rest of the family.

“We were a typical Filipino family who enjoyed each member’s presence. I miss the days when I wake up to see my parents and brother together,” Randy said.

Family separation

The family’s separation took a toll on Randy’s father, whose ailments worsened, leading to his death in October.

Randy’s wife and their 4-year-old daughter also suffered from the legal battle against the police officers after his nephew’s death.

Randy used to work as a dispatcher for a trucking company, earning minimum wage to support his family.

The police implicated Randy and Saldy in the illegal drug trade, tagging them as the ones who ordered Kian to peddle drugs in their area. As a result of the allegation, Randy was repeatedly bullied by his workmates, forcing him to quit a few months later.

Since then, Randy has been struggling to find a regular job. He is making do with part-time work for his friends to augment his family’s meager income from selling candies and toys in their makeshift store.

Trust in law

“We trusted the law in making these cops accountable, but they have dragged our names just like that,” Randy said.

“It was so easy for them to say that Kian was a drug peddler, that he fought back, that we ordered him to do so—they had to make these stories to support their claims,” he added.

Despite all that they have gone through, he remains hopeful that Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr. of the Caloocan City RTC Branch 125 would scrutinize the evidence fairly.

“Kian was already lifeless, but his body spoke volumes—from the way it showed how he was helplessly shot by the police, to testing negative in the paraffin test. He was even brought to a police-accredited funeral parlor, so how could they cast doubt on the exam results?” Randy said.

Crucial to Kian’s case, he said, was how swiftly the witnesses had been safeguarded. He said their testimonies gave  face to the truth as they saw it.

“It became easier for us to counter the police’s scripted claims,” he added.

Other cases

The presence of witnesses set the case apart from other suspected EJKs, which often couldn’t stand in court because they were based on so-called hearsay evidence.

Others are waiting for the slow grind of justice to end in their favor—like the families of Carl Arnaiz, 19, and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman, 14. The two were killed on Aug. 18, 2017, just two days after Kian was gunned down.

Police accused the two of robbing taxi driver Tomas Bagcal along C-3 Road in Caloocan.

A lone witness, however, said officers shot dead a defenseless Arnaiz in Navotas and stabbed De Guzman before dumping his body into a river in Nueva Ecija.

PO1 Ricky Arquilita and PO1 Jefrey Perez are being tried in the Navotas City RTC for murder and for torture and planting of evidence in the Caloocan RTC.

“We’re gradually moving on, slowly accepting what happened. There’s nothing we could do. It was God’s hand at work,” said Carlito Arnaiz, Carl’s father.

‘Changes’ in drug war

While the Arnaiz family admitted it would be difficult to restore normality to their life, they found succor in the thought that the case of Kian, Carl and Kulot had led to “broad changes” in the conduct of the war on drugs.

“The police are reminded that they, too, could face trial. They couldn’t take someone’s life just like that,” said Carl’s father, who is also in the witness protection program with his wife.

The Arnaiz and De Guzman families believe that the true meaning of justice is not the public attention or sympathy they’ve been receiving. It is holding the perpetrators accountable and seeing them behind bars.

“There’s no way of knowing how the judge would rule in our case,” Randy said.

“But I’m confident that all the evidence we laid out since Day 1 are true because, after all, it’s only the truth that we have and we could offer,” he added.

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TAGS: drug killings, EJKs, extrajudicial killings, Kian delos Santos, war on drugs
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