Lawyers hail conviction of 4 tokhang police in 2016 homicide

Human rights lawyers welcomed as “a soothing balm” the conviction of several police officers in the killings of father and son Luis and Gabriel Lois Bonifacio under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called anti-drug war.

But the National Capital Region chapter of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL-NCR), private prosecutors to the case, immediately clarified that the guilty verdict was not the product of government’s efforts towards justice but the courage of the victim’s families and organizations.

The Caloocan City Regional Trial Court Branch 121 on Tuesday, June 18, convicted Master Sgt. Virgilio Cervantes and Police Corporals Arnel De Guzman, Johnston Alacre and Argemio Saguros, Jr. guilty of homicide for the twin deaths in 2016.

 “The firing of shots made by all the accused which caused the death of the victims without justifiable cause shows same criminal intent towards the same criminal design,” the 30-page ruling reads. 

The convicts were given prison sentences ranging from a minimum of six years to 10 years, with the possibility of parole after the sixth year.

Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla was quick to hail the verdict, claiming the Philippine criminal justice system works.

NUPL-NCR however said the development only showed that the “bloody hands of authorities” are really behind the massive killings under the Duterte regime’s Oplan Tokhang.

The victims, like the Bonifacios, are “almost purely from the ranks of the destitute,” the NUPL-NCR said.

The group added that police officers convicted, such as in the separate cases of Kian de los Santos as well as Carl Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman, cover only low-ranking police personnel out of many others who were part of the operations.

NUPL-NCR also cited immense difficulties in building a case against authorities due to “police incompetence, inaction, indolence and overall culture of impunity.”

Mary Ann Bonifacio, widow and mother of the victims, being comforted by members of the Rise Up for Life and for Rights after the promulgation last Tuesday. (RESBAK photo)

“Luis and Gabriel Lois were but two of 6252 killed in police operations. The number of those brought to court for killings barely reach a hundred,” NUPL-NCR said in the statement.

The group said there are thousands more who cannot identify whose hands pulled the triggers in the vigilante-style killings.

“And yet, while we already know who made the blueprint for widespread and systemic murders…[t]hey are the ones who remain beyond the reach of [local] investigation or prosecution,” the group added.

NUPL members are among the human rights lawyers who assist families of victims who filed complaints against Duterte and others at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands and in many local courts.

Former senator Antonio Trillanes III has repeatedly said a warrant of arrest by the ICC is forthcoming against Duterte and others, such as the former president’s first police chief, now senator, Ronald de la Rosa.

“[This] triumph is a comfort to the family of Luis and Gabriel Lois and a sigh of relief for us, the private prosecutors, our clients in Rise Up for Life and for Rights, and others who supported this quest for justice,” NUPL-NCR said of the guilty verdict.

“However, in terms of scale, [Tuesday’s] legal victory is just a footnote in a bloody chapter that has yet to end as bodies continue to pile up until today,” the group added.

NUPL-NCR urged the prosecution of all responsible for the drug-related killings it said persists even under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)