Four Philippine policemen were convicted on Tuesday for the murder of a father and son during a 2016 anti-drug operation. This case marks a rare instance of law enforcement officers being held accountable for their actions during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial drug war.

The officers, Virgilio Cervantes, Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre, and Artemio Saguros, were each sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for the homicides of Luis Bonifacio and his son Gabriel Domingo. Judge Rowena Alejandria of the Manila regional trial court noted in her verdict that the officers did not deny their involvement in the operation where the two victims were killed.

During Duterte’s presidency from 2016 to 2022, thousands of suspected drug offenders were killed by police and vigilantes in what critics have labeled as state-sponsored extrajudicial killings. The campaign is currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Advertisements

At the verdict reading, Mary Ann Domingo, the partner of Luis Bonifacio, wept alongside her son. The court also ordered the officers to pay 300,000 pesos ($5,120) each in damages to the victims’ families.

Despite allegations that over a dozen officers participated in the raid, state prosecutors charged only four with homicide, a lesser charge than murder, which would imply a deliberate intent to kill and carry a harsher penalty. The officers claimed self-defense, asserting the victims were armed and fired at them first, but the court found otherwise.

HAVE YOU READ?:  Poverty spurred me to success – Lookman

Official data indicates over 6,000 people died in police anti-narcotics operations, although rights groups estimate the number to be in the tens of thousands. These groups argue many victims were poor individuals killed without evidence of drug involvement. Duterte had openly instructed police to use lethal force if they felt threatened during operations.

This conviction is among a few where police officers have been held accountable. In 2018, three Manila police officers were convicted for murdering a 17-year-old in 2017, and two other officers were found guilty last year for separate killings in 2016 and 2017, the latter involving a South Korean businessman.

Advertisements

Many families of victims do not pursue legal action due to fear or lack of resources to navigate the Philippines’ slow judicial system. The ICC’s investigation into the drug war has described it as a “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” aligned with state policy. Although Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC in 2019, the court continues to investigate cases predating the withdrawal. Current President Ferdinand Marcos has refused to cooperate with the ICC, asserting that the Philippines has a functioning judicial system.