MANILA - International watchdog Human Rights Watch said Thursday it is "heartened" by the guilty verdict of 3 policemen for murdering 17-year old Kian Delos Santos, but said it remains wary of President Rodrigo Duterte's promise to pardon officers convicted in his drug war.
Police officers Arnel Oares, Jeremias Pereda and Jerwin Cruz were sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison, with no eligibility for parole, for killing Delos Santos who was allegedly resisting arrest during an anti-narcotics operation. His family denied that the 17-year-old was a drug runner.
The conviction is a "triumph of justice and accountability and a warning to members of the Philippine National Police to respect due process and the rights of civilians as they do their job," said Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams.
However, the rights group recalled that Duterte has promised to pardon police officers engaged in the war on drugs.
"There is reason to suspect that he will keep that promise. This is why it remains important that the government create an independent commission to investigate these killings," said Adams.
The conviction, then, also "underscores the need for the International Criminal Court to take further action on the complaints against Duterte," he added.
He said the 5,000 killed in the anti-drug operations, as admitted by the police force itself, is a "a lot of deaths that need to be thoroughly and independently investigated."
An ABS-CBN monitoring of drug-related fatalities recorded 5,383 deaths from May 10, 2016, when Duterte was already seen to be the president-elect, until November 20 this year.
Delos Santos' death in 2017 triggered public scrutiny of Duterte's war on drugs, even sparking a Senate investigation.
Two months after Delos Santos' death in Caloocan City, Duterte transferred the leadership of his war on drugs to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency from the Philippine National Police.