Caloocan City RTC Branch 125 Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr. received praise for his decision to convict the three policemen tagged in the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.
PO 3 Arnel Oares, PO1 Jeremias Pereda and PO1 Jerwin Cruz were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or 20 to 40 years in prison after they were found guilty of the murder of Delos Santos, a senior high school student who was shot to death during a police operation in August 2017.
Azucena however ruled that the cops were not guilty of planting firearms and narcotics in Delos Santos’ corpse as the prosecution was not able to present evidence to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The case against police asset Renato “Nono” Loveras, the informant who allegedly pointed the police towards Delos Santos, was archived as he is still in hiding. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
“Accused Pereda and Oares shot Kian while Cruz, a fellow police officer stood guard without any provocation from Kian and making it impossible for him to retaliate,” Azucena wrote in his decision.
The police claimed that Delos Santos was an armed drug pusher who fired at them during the operation even though CCTV footage showed the student being dragged to his knees to the direction of a tunnel near the Tullahan River near Barangay 160, Valenzuela City, where his body was found.
Some of the witnesses claimed that Delos Santos was given a gun and told to run.
Azucena said that the element of treachery, due to evidence that showed Delos Santos was unable to fight back, was present and thus qualified the fatal shooting as murder.
He cautioned against the use of violence in law enforcement in his decision.
“A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society. Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement. The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life,” Azucena wrote.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara said that law enforcers should take heed of the decision.
“The conviction serves as a warning to our law enforcers that in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, the rule of law and due process must always be observed,” he said in a statement.
Azucena’s decision was praised by some, with many echoing his words in the decision.
Judge Rodolfo Azucena 👍
— Ex Miss Andy (@miss_andeng) November 29, 2018
"The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life." —Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr. on today's sentencing pic.twitter.com/NaQrlrqSFk
— Ezra Acayan (@eacayan) November 29, 2018
Some observed a trend of judicial independence in recent trial court decisions on high-profile cases.
Something’s afoot in the judiciary. The winds of independence are blowing at a noticeable pace. First, there was Judge Soriano ruling in favor of Sen. Trillanes. Now, there is Judge Azucena, Jr. convicting the Tokhang cops who murdered Kian. Bright spots in unexpected places!
— Edwin Lacierda (@dawende) November 29, 2018
The killing of Delos Santos, who was just in Grade 12, sparked outrage from critics of the administration’s war on drugs. Many argued that the cops’ actions showed a lack of proper police procedure and disregard for civilians’ rights in the nationwide drive against narcotics.
On the first-year anniversary of his death, several critics of the drug war took to social media to use the #RememberKian hashtag in calling for an end to the spate of killings in drug operations.
Advocacy group Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center in April 2018 said that at least 74 minors have been killed in police operations and vigilante-style executions since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration in 2016.
There have been calls for deeper investigations into the killings of Althea Barbon, a four-year-old girl who perished during a drug operation against her father, and 19-year-old Raymart Siapo, who was killed by “bonnet-wearing men” a day after he was accused of being a marijuana seller by a neighbor.