QC court acquits ‘Tokhang’ survivor of attacking policemen
MANILA, Philippines — The Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court has acquitted a “Tokhang survivor” accused of attacking police officers during a drug bust in August 2016.
Acquitted is Efren Morillo after the court found no evidence that he shot police officers in August 2016 during an “Oplan Tokhang Operation.”
“The Court is convinced that the Prosecution failed to establish that all of the elements of Direct Assault are attendant in this case,” QC MeTC Branch 133 Judge Gloria Monica Lopez-Lao said.
“Oplan Tokhang” is a house-to-house visitation that means knocking and pleading. The operation gives the police the authority to visit the houses of suspected drug users and encourage them to change their ways.
2016 Oplan Tokhang
The police said the officers visited the house of Marcelo Daa Jr. They said Daa’s aunt pointed them at a place where drug addicts were hiding. Upon reaching the area, they introduced themselves, but Morillo and his companions shot at them. The police said Morillo shouted “hindi kami magpapahuli ng buhay [You’ll never going to get us alive]!”
Daa, Rhaffy Gabo, Anthony Comendo, and Jessie Cule were killed during the operation.
Morillo denied the police’s version. He said he went to Daa’s place to ask about the money he owed his parents. Daa asked him to wait, so Morillo said he decided to play pool with Marcelo and his friends.
Eventually, armed men in civilian clothes arrived. Morillo said they were handcuffed, frisked, asked about illegal drugs, and taken at the back of Daa’s shanty. He said Gabo, Comendo, and Cule were made to kneel while he and Daa were taken to a room with a curtain. He said he was shot in his left chest and played dead, while Daa, also shot in the chest, was again shot in the head.
Morillo said he heard successive shots and and the supposed team leader, PO3 (Police Staff Sergeant) Allan Formilleza saying “tuwamag na kayo ng SOCO. Sabihin nanlaban ang mga yan. Iwanan ang ebidensya.”
Morillo said after the police officers left, he crawled out of the room and walked thru an abyss until he reached the highway and sought help.
At the hospital, Morillo was questioned by the police and eventually charged with direct assault.
Police officer’s testimony
During the hearing, PO1 (now Patrolman) James Aggarao testified that he only heard gunshots but did not see Morillo firing a gun. Instead, he said it was Formilleza who he saw discharge a firearm. He also admitted that he only signed the joint affidavit of arrest after Formilleza told him that Morillo attacked him.
Another police witness, PO1 Melchor Navisaga, said he only saw dead bodies at the time of the incident. He said he only met Morillo at the Office of the Ombudsman, while Aggarao said he only met Morillo at the Court of Appeals.
Formilleza admitted that PSI (Captain) Emil delos Santos whom Morillo purportedly shot, was not in the area when the incident happened.
Aside from the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, the paraffin test of Morillo yielded negative for the presence of nitrate powder.
The court ruling
“These taken altogether, cast doubt as to accused Morillo’s culpability for a direct assault. At the outset, the Prosecution was not shown to have conducted its Oplan Tokhang on the day of the incident in compliance with PNP Rules,” the court said.
The court added that “the prosecution fell short as well of proving that accused Morillo seriously resisted and attacked the police operatives as none of the Prosecution witnesses saw accused Morillo fire his gun.”
“Fortwith, the acquittal of the accused Morillo is in order,” said the court.
In 2017, Morillo, assisted by the Center for International Law (CenterLaw), filed administrative charges against the police officers before the Office of the Ombudsman. However, the case is still pending to date.
He was among the first to question the legality of Oplan Toklang before the Supreme Court in 2017.
CenterLaw, in a statement, said welcomed the court’s ruling.
“It is a beacon of light for those whose hopes have been dimmed and distorted by the pro forma, lawless, and soulless “Nanlaban” narrative. This decision is proof that truth will prevail and lives on,” CenterLaw said.
It added that “in light of this judicial finding, Mr. Morillo believes that his case before the Ombudsman should soon be resolved in his favor. With victims’ families steadfast and relentless in the pursuit of justice, Mr. Morillo – the one who lived – continues his call for accountability against his perpetrators and other perpetrators of the drug war.”
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