Erring cops 'don't reflect' whole org, PNP says after rare drug war conviction

Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 24 2022 02:14 PM | Updated as of Nov 25 2022 08:09 AM

Caloocan police PO1 Jeffrey Perez and PO1 Ricky Arquilita, who were involved in the death of Carl Angelo Arnaiz attend a Senate hearing, Sept. 5, 2017. George Calvelo. ABS-CBN News/File 
Caloocan police PO1 Jeffrey Perez and PO1 Ricky Arquilita, who were involved in the death of Carl Angelo Arnaiz attend a Senate hearing, Sept. 5, 2017. George Calvelo. ABS-CBN News/File 

MANILA — Erring officers of the Philippine National Police "do not reflect" the views of the whole organization, it said on Thursday, after a court found a policeman tortured 2 teenagers killed at the height of former president Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. 

The PNP remains steadfast in its duty to uphold and respect human rights in all aspects of police operations against crime, said its Public Information Office chief Col. Redrico Maranan. 
 
"Nevertheless, any acts committed by erring personnel [do] not reflect the views of the whole PNP organization," he said in a statement.

A Manila court found earlier this month that police officers Jefrey Perez and Ricky Arquilita tortured 2 teenagers in 2017. The officers also planted a weapon and drugs on one of the victims.

The teens -- Reynaldo De Guzman, 14, and Carl Arnaiz, 19 -- were later killed by the same officers, the court said. 

However, murder charges filed against the officers were withdrawn and filed in a Navotas court because they were submitted in the wrong jurisdiction. 

Perez was jailed for life for planting evidence and given a minimum sentence of 20 years for torture, according to the court ruling, which was released Wednesday and seen by AFP.

Arquilita died during the trial.

The PNP "respects" the court's decision, its Public Information Office said. 
 
"While it may be true that a police officer was involved in said incident, we believe that said decision was a result of a fair trial, the former PNP officers involved having been given equal opportunity to be heard in court," it said. 

The teenagers were last seen together on the evening of Aug. 17, 2017. 

Hours later, a witness saw a police car parked on the side of a road. He watched as a handcuffed Arnaiz got out of the vehicle, knelt down, raised his hands and shouted "I will surrender" before Perez shot him. 

The body of De Guzman was found weeks later north of Manila. It had dozens of stab wounds.

"Without a doubt, the contusions and abrasions found in the various parts of the victims' body caused severe pain and exhaustion upon them, before they were eventually killed," the court said.

The police officers denied the charges. They claimed in the case involving Arnaiz they had tried to arrest him on suspicion of robbery but shot him dead when he resisted. 

Visitors pay their last respects to student Carl Angelo Arnaiz during a mass in Makati City on Sept. 5, 2017. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File
Visitors pay their last respects to student Carl Angelo Arnaiz during a mass in Makati City on Sept. 5, 2017. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

During his 6-year term, which ended in June, Duterte openly ordered police to shoot dead drug suspects if officers' lives were in danger.

More than 6,200 people died in his anti-drug campaign, according to official figures. But rights groups estimate the true figure was in the tens of thousands. 

The crackdown was widely condemned and sparked an international investigation but only 3 policemen have been convicted for killing a drug suspect.

The PNP aims utilize a more holistic approach to combating crimes, which would involve the church and the community through its Kasimbayanan program, said Maranan. 

However, the PNP said it could not promise zero casualties in its operations as the safety of its personnel is also a priority.

"We are keen on observing different approaches [to] our anti-crime campaign to minimize, if not avoid, armed confrontations in our police operations," Maranan said.

Meanwhile, rights groups welcomed Perez's conviction but Amnesty International said it was a "drop in the bucket considering the about 30,000 cases of killings in the War on Drugs".

Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde said the conviction was "rare good news in the Philippines drug war". 

"We can only hope the courts deal expeditiously on other cases," Conde told AFP.

Watch more News on iWantTFC

President Ferdinand Marcos, who succeeded Duterte, has vowed to continue the drug war but with a focus on prevention and rehabilitation.

Police have killed 46 drug suspects since Marcos took power, national police chief General Rodolfo Azurin told reporters recently. Activists said the real number was more than a hundred.

But Azurin insisted that "as much as possible" police tried to avoid killing suspects. 

Under pressure from the UN Human Rights Council and the ICC, the Duterte government began examining hundreds of cases of drug operations that led to deaths. 

The effort is still underway and 25 officers have been charged, Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said this month.

— With a report from Agence France Presse