MANILA (UPDATE)—They arrested a drug suspect, detained him in a police station and then demanded P100,000 for his release. Now, 5 former cops are facing 40 years in prison after a court found them guilty of kidnapping.
A Makati City court on June 20 convicted 5 former members of the Pasay City Police anti-drug unit for kidnapping after they were found guilty of arresting a “drug suspect” and demanding P100,000 in exchange for his release.
The Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 148 sentenced Police Lt. Ronaldo Frades, SSgt. Rigor Octaviano, Cpl. Sajid Anwar Nasser and patrolmen Anthony Fernandez and John Mark Cruz to reclusion perpetua or 40 years in prison over the 2019 abduction of the drug suspect (name withheld upon request).
Based on the court decision, 3 of the accused — Nasser, Fernandez and Cruz — arrested the drug suspect on the morning of March 5, 2019 while he was walking on a street bordering Makati and Pasay City.
He was then taken to the Pasay City Police Station Drug Enforcement Unit where he was kept the entire day and was only allowed to call his live-in partner at 9 p.m. to relay the police’s demand for P100,000.
But instead of complying, the live-in partner went to Camp Crame to complain to the PNP Counter-Intelligence Task Force (CITF).
Within a few hours, CITF operatives set up an entrapment operation, which led to the arrest of Nasser inside the Pasay City Police Station.
The other 4 officers were able to flee with the “boodle” money but they were subsequently identified and charged.
It turned out that the drug suspect’s arrest was not recorded in the police blotter and neither was he involved in any prior drug case.
The incident led to the sacking of the entire anti-drug enforcement unit of the Pasay City Police and the relief of its then police chief, PCol. Noel Flores.
All of the 5 accused have earlier been dismissed from service after having been found guilty of the administrative charge of grave misconduct for committing robbery, graft, and violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
In convicting the 5 former policemen, Judge Andres Soriano considered “credible” and “consistent in all material respects” the testimonies of the drug suspect and his live-in partner.
“Their narration of the events of March 5, 2019 and March 6, 2019 was subjected to intense scrutiny and dissection by the counsels for the accused; and even then, their testimony remained consistent,” he said.
The drug suspect testified how he was arrested and detained while his partner testified on how the entrapment operation was planned and implemented.
“Nagulat po ako, bigla na lang ako dinakma, pinosasan tapos dinala sa may Station 1 Pasay po... Drugs daw po eh wala naman po akong drugs sa katawan,” the drug suspect told ABS-CBN News about his arrest.
(I was surprised, they just grabbed and handcuffed me, then brought me to Station 1 Pasay... They said it was because of drugs but I didn't have any illegal drugs with me.)
“Wala na po akong ibang alam na gagawin po kundi lumapit sa Kampo Crame para humingi ng tulong,” the live-in partner said.
(I did not know what else to do so I went to Camp Crame to ask for help.)
Both were able to identify all the accused during the trial and their respective participation in the kidnapping, the court said.
“Equally, important and significant, there is no indication, nor showing that any of the testimonies of [drug suspect] or [live-in partner], and/or the testimonies of any of the prosecution witnesses…was tainted with malice and or ill intent,” the court added.
The prosecution also presented video clips of the entrapment and other documentary evidence.
Judge Soriano rejected the alibis of the accused in the face of positive identification by the complainants and the witnesses.
Nasser claimed he could not have been part of the arresting team because he was supposedly in the police station as the duty investigator in the morning of March 5, 2019 and was seen on a CCTV footage to be near his house by lunchtime.
Octaviano, Fernandez, and Cruz claimed they were in a buy-bust operation when the supposed payment of ransom and entrapment took place in the wee hours of March 6, 2019.
“[I]n asserting alibi, all accused nonetheless failed to present evidence to suggest that they were of such distance from the place of the commission of the offense that it would have been impossible for them to have participated therein,” the judge said.
A police officer assigned at the CITF (now the Integrity Monitoring Enforcement Group) also cast doubt on the buy-bust operation alibi, noting that those in the list of persons arrested were already detained at the Pasay City Police Station’s SDEU office at the time of the entrapment operation.
Aside from the jail sentence, the 5 former policemen were also ordered to pay CITF P100,000 in restitution and to indemnify Revilla P50,000.
Assistant state prosecutors Lovherette Jeffrey Villordon and Joan Carla Guevarra handled the prosecution of the case.
Judge Soriano gained prominence when he handled one of 2 revived cases against former senator Antonio Trillanes IV which resulted from former President Rodrigo Duterte’s revocation of Trillanes’ amnesty.
Soriano rejected the revocation and stood by the dismissal of Trillanes’ coup d’etat case. His ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
The conviction of the 5 cops came at the tailend of a 6-year drug war of former President Rodrigo Duterte and is one of a few convictions of police officers.
So far, only 3 policemen have been previously convicted for the death of 17-year-old Kian Lloyd Delos Santos, who was supposedly killed when he resisted arrest but CCTV footage showed he was dragged into a dark alley.
Autopsy results showed he sustained fatal wounds to the head and was killed while kneeling down.
More than 6,000 drug suspects have been killed in law enforcement operations, according to official figures, but human rights groups estimate more than 30,000 have been killed, including those slain by vigilantes and unknown perpetrators.
The regularity of arrests and buy-bust operations conducted by law enforcers have been questioned on several occasions.
In October 2020, a Dumaguete court acquitted 5 drug suspects after a CCTV footage was presented in court showing Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency members faked a drug bust operation.
In September 2016, a Makati court acquitted an Australian, who was arrested in June that year supposedly for selling ecstasy.
He was arrested inside his hotel room without a warrant and not caught in the act of selling illegal drugs, as the now-defunct PNP Anti-Illegal Drug Group claimed.
Australian Damian John Berg had maintained his innocence and accused the officers of trying to extort P2 million in exchange for his release.
The International Criminal Court has authorized a probe into the drug war killings in the country, although the Philippine government asked for its deferral.
The ICC Prosecutor suspended its probe in November 2021 but in June this year has asked for the resumption of its inquiry after finding that the Philippine government has not demonstrated it has investigated or is investigating crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.
The Philippine National Police has said the guilty verdict of the 5 police personnel vindicates the operation of PNP CITF and the complaint of the victim last 2019.
"This is also a proof that the PNP is taking action against rogue cops and that we don't tolerate illegal deeds within the organization," it said in a statement.
"While the PNP IMEG (formerly CITF), and the rest of the units shall continue to police its own ranks and any complaint against a police officer will be addressed immediately," it added.
In a statement, the DOJ said it is “steadfast in its commitment to uphold the Rule of Law.”
“SOJ [Jesus Crispin Remulla] is making sure the Department is equipped with all the necessary tools and programs to make sure Justice is served,” lawyer Mico Clavano of the Office of the Justice Secretary said.
The DOJ is conducting its own review of drug war killings.