MANILA — Seven cops from Bulacan who faked a drug buy-bust operation and killed 6 passersby in February last year are now facing murder and arbitrary detention charges, the Justice department said in a press statement Tuesday.
Charged with 6 counts of murder and another 6 counts of arbitrary detention are:
- Police Staff Sergeant Benjie Enconado
- Police Staff Sergeant Irwin Joy Yuson
- Police Corporal Marlon Martus
- Police Corporal Edmund Catubay, Jr.
- Police Corporal Harvy Albino
- Police Corporal Herbert Hernandez
- Patrolman Rusco Virnar Madla
They were charged for the “baseless and unlawful detention, and eventual killing” of “innocent victims” Chamberlain Domingo, Chadwin Santos, Edmar Aspirin, Richard Salgado, Erwin Mergal and Jim Joshua Cordero.
The 7 cops, according to a DOJ panel, “unlawfully and forcibly” took the 6 victims in Towerville, Brgy. Sto. Cristo in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan on February 13, 2020 and acted as if they were drug suspects.
The cops supposedly detained the victims in a room at the San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan police station where they were “blindfolded and hand-tied.”
“The DOJ Panel resolved that the unsuspecting victims were taken because ‘they happened to pass by the area where a buy-bust operation took place,’” the DOJ press statement said.
No copy of the DOJ panel’s joint resolution has yet been released to the media despite request.
But according to the press statement, the DOJ panel relied on the eye-witness account of a person who was ordered to watch over the victims while they were detained.
It also mentioned photographs showing that the victims were blindfolded and hand-tied.
Meanwhile, the complaint against 8 other cops were junked because the evidence were “insufficient to establish probable cause,” the weight of evidence needed to bring a case in court.
DELAY IN FILING CHARGES
The DOJ panel’s joint resolution was dated November 27, 2020 but the charges were filed against the 7 cops before the Malolos City regional trial court only on August 25, 2021.
In a message to reporters, Justice spokesperson Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar said further discussions and evaluation took place when the draft of the resolution from the panel was submitted to the task force head in November 2020. The task force head is Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon.
“The Final resolution was then forwarded to the Prosecutor General on the first week of August,” she said.
“Kindly take note as well the ECQs (enhanced community quarantine) in March and July this Year. Finally, we released the briefer when the case was actually filed in court,” she added.
But where are the 7 Bulacan cops now?
Aglipay-Villar said: "We do not know if the PNP knows their whereabouts.”
She however added that the Prosecutor General has ordered the filing of motion for issuance of hold departure orders to keep them from leaving the country and the National Prosecution Service is working on it.
Reacting to the story, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, Jr. said on Twitter: "justice works.”
He claimed "we haven't seen this much real justice work done in any and all of the previous administrations."
But Human Rights Watch senior Philippines researcher Carlos Conde said it was “premature and self-serving” for the Duterte administration to “spin” the news that way.
“For every good news like this, 1000s of other cases of #drugwar EJKs (extrajudicial killings) are uninvestigated or languishing in the Philippines’ broken justice system. This spin betrays government’s cynical attempt to mislead international community,” he tweeted Tuesday.
The press statement from the DOJ came out a day after it was reported that 94% of those who approached the International Criminal Court through its victims representations procedure “overwhelmingly support” the ICC’s potential probe on the drug war in the Philippines, which has killed thousands of drug suspects.
Although Malacanang dismissed it as mere opinion of the victims, the views and concerns expressed through the victim representation forms submitted to the ICC are intended to help the Pre-Trial Chamber decide whether or not to push through with the probe.
Rights activists are hailing it as a possible step that should move the ICC communications forward.
Malacanang insisted the Philippines will not and has no obligation to cooperate with the ICC because of its withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Monday the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber “has a responsibility to evaluate the prospective feasibility of a probe, considering and balancing the realistic expectations for cooperation by the most relevant national authorities in the collection of evidence and in the surrender of potential suspects, on the one side, and the concrete interests of justice, included the interest of the victims, on the other.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, for his part said on Tuesday, the President “has the proper legal defenses available and will invoke all of these legal defenses at the proper time.”
“He just does not want interference in our domestic mechanisms. I think that’s basically his concern, that international institutions are getting in the way, when in fact, our domestic mechanisms are there, operating and can resolve conflicts within,” he said in response to a question during an online meeting of the Rotary clubs of Makati, Cebu and Davao.
Guevarra also sought to defend Duterte on the issue of human rights.
“Even though he’s waging this campaign against illegal drugs and many have died because of this campaign, it doesn’t really mean that he’s disrespecting human rights,” he said.
He clarified that the President's defense of law enforcers only extends those who perform duties within the bounds of the law and protocols, and are not implied directives to circumvent the Constitution.
“As a matter of fact, this review panel that was constituted and headed by the Department of Justice is doing a lot to ensure that those who must be held accountable for deaths arising from illegal drug operations are brought before the bar of justice,” Guevarra explained.
The DOJ’s drug war review panel recently finished reviewing 52 cases shared by the Philippine National Police and will submit a report to the President this week.
This is aside from the DOJ’s earlier review of about 328 cases of drug operations which it finished in December last year.
The reports on both reviews have not yet been released to the public and it is still unclear if the families or the Commission on Human Rights will have access to these reports and files.
Official figures from the PNP put the official tally of suspects killed in drug war operations in the Philippines at just above 6,000 but rights groups claim the number could go as high as more than 30,000 if vigilante killings are also included.