4 Caloocan police in Duterte drug war found guilty of homicide

4 Caloocan cops in Duterte drug war found guilty of homicide

/ 05:05 AM June 19, 2024

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MANILA, Philippines — Four members of the Caloocan City police were found guilty of homicide in connection with an antidrug operation during the Duterte administration that led to the death of a man and his teenage son.

In a decision issued on Monday, the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 121 convicted Police Master Sgt. Virgilio Cervantes and Corporals Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre and Artemio Saguros Jr.


They were sentenced to a prison term of six years to 10 years each.


READ: Marcos notes ‘abuses’ in Duterte drug war

Judge Ma. Rowena Violago Alejandria also ordered them to pay P400,000 each in damages to the family of the victims, Luis Bonifacio and his 19-year-old son Gabriel.

The elder Bonifacio’s widow wanted more officers indicted in the case, noting that a total of 15 officers came to their house in Bagong Barrio, Caloocan, on the night her loved ones were killed.

She went to the Supreme Court to seek the reversal of a resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman that fixed the number of the accused to four. The Supreme Court upheld the Ombudsman’s action and dismissed the widow’s petition in October 2023.


According to court records, the Bonifacios were killed by officers who came to the victims’ residence to conduct a “buy-bust operation” on Sept. 15, 2016.

Quoting the widow’s testimony, the decision read: “There were police officers with long guns and flashlights who suddenly went upstairs and told us that they will only conduct a search and we were surprised […] We were surrounded by the police and they poked guns at us and we (the rest of the family members) were forcibly ordered to go down.”


Luis was ordered to kneel while Gabriel repeatedly begged for their lives, asking: “What have we done?”

Based on autopsy results presented in court, Gabriel was shot at least three times in the body.

Luis, the father, who was also shot dead, was also found to have a fractured right forearm, which the autopsy report described as a possible sign that he tried to defend himself.

Claim of ‘self-defense’

The court said it was “not convinced” of the officers’ claim that they were met with gunfire from the victims when they arrived at the house and that the ensuing firefight resulted in the Bonifacios’ death.

“The accused cannot invoke that they acted in defense nor in the fulfillment of duty as justifying circumstances to exculpate them from criminal liability.

“First, there was nothing to defend when they suddenly entered the house of the victims. Assuming their versions were true, the firing of their guns, as admitted by them, would not satisfy the requisites of ‘in fulfillment of duty.’”

The court further noted how the officers fired their guns “without due care [and] regard to anyone who might be hit with such indiscriminate firing in a place where [there] may be other persons present beside their targets.’’

“[The] basic rule is that the burden of proving the guilt of the accused lies in the prosecution. But when the accused invokes self-defense, the rule is reversed and the burden of proof is shifted to the accused to prove the elements of his defense. It then becomes incumbent upon him to rely on the strength of his own defense and not on the weakness of the evidence of the prosecution, for even if the latter is weak, it could not be disbelieved after he had admitted the killing,” the court also explained.

4th conviction

The human rights watchdog Karapatan on Tuesday welcomed the convictions as a victory for the victims of the Duterte drug war in their search for justice.

It noted with dismay, however, that the officers were convicted only of homicide—not the more serious charge of murder—and that no higher official or commanding officer was charged.

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Karapatan also said the Bonifacio case was so far, only the fourth known conviction out of the thousands of fatal and questionable antidrug operations carried out during the Duterte years. —Russel Loreto

TAGS: Caloocan, drug war killings, Duterte administration

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