Victims’ families draw hope from latest ‘tokhang’ conviction

Victims’ families draw hope from latest ‘tokhang’ conviction

Victims’ families draw hope from latest ‘tokhang’ conviction

DRUG-RELATED An immediate family member of Luis Bonifacio (left photo) and his son Gabriel Lois, who were killed in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, files a murder case in the Office of the Ombudsman against police officers involved in the killings. —Lyn Rillon/Inquirer file photo

MANILA, Philippines — The latest conviction of four police officers for the killing of a father and son in a so-called “tokhang” [knock and plead] operation in 2016 elicited some hope for the families of 6,252 victims acknowledged to have been slain in the anti-illegal drugs war ordered by former President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a decision handed down on Tuesday, Caloocan City Regional Trial Court Judge Ma. Rowena Alejandria found Police Master Sgt. Virgilio Servantes and Police Corporals Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre and Argemio Saguros Jr. guilty of homicide for killing Luis Bonifacio and his son Gabriel Lois Bonifacio in their home on Sept. 15, 2016.


“This conviction is a milestone in our criminal justice system, a testament [to] the government’s unwavering efforts to safeguard human rights in the pursuit of justice and a clear proof of a functioning justice system,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Wednesday.


READ: Collateral damage of ‘tokhang’

“This serves as a reminder to abusive police officers that no one is above the law, justice will eventually catch up with them,” he added.

That was also the hope of Spanish couple Alberto Bello and Pilar Lafuente-Bello, whose son, businessman Diego Bello Lafuente, was killed by the police in a purported drug operation in Siargao in 2020.

Pilar said through an interpreter that she could not understand the delay in the case, which has had only seven hearings since Diego was killed.

The accused in the case—Police Capt. Wise Vicente Panuelos and Police Staff Sgts. Ronel Pazo and Nido Boy Cortes—also disappeared for almost three years after warrants of arrest were issued against them.

Diego arrived in the country in 2017 but later established a surf shop and restaurant-bar in Siargao before he was killed.


Meeting sought with President

Pilar said they were committed to pursuing justice for their son despite the financial difficulty of having to travel to the Philippines for the ongoing trial for murder and planting evidence.

She asked for a meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to ensure that her son, who was only 32 when he died, would be given justice.

Her husband said the case was also important for the country’s image and for Marcos to show the world “that the image of the Philippines is changing.”

The couple’s lawyer, Abdiel Fajardo, a former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said he was confident that he had a solid case, but it was still at the bail petition stage.

“Basically, they are here so that justice is served, and they are sure that justice will be served, but they also need the support of the Filipino government or the Filipinos in general,” Fajardo said.

The Bello couple lamented that they were facing challenges in funding their quest for justice, so they created a website selling merchandise under Diego’s brand “Mamon” to finance their travels.

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“If there are still funds left, it will be transferred to the Commission on Human Rights,” Pilar said.

TAGS: drug war killings, Oplan Tokhang

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