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Filipino rights groups decry 'lighter penalties' for killer cops

Of 19 police officers involved in killing a teenager, only six were taken to court and only one was convicted of homicide
Members of church and civil society groups light candles to protest against a spate of drug-related killings in the Philippines.

Members of church and civil society groups light candles to protest against a spate of drug-related killings in the Philippines. (Photo: Angie de Silva)

Published: February 29, 2024 11:53 AM GMT
Updated: February 29, 2024 11:57 AM GMT

Rights groups have joined family members of a slain teenager in criticizing a local court for handing down “lighter penalties” to six police officers responsible for the killing.

Seventeen-year-old Jemboy Baltazar was shot dead on Aug. 2, 2023, during a police operation in Navotas City in the capital Manila.

The Navotas regional trial court on Feb. 27 held one officer, Gerry Maliban, guilty of homicide and sentenced him to six years in jail.

Four others – Roberto Balais, Nikko Pines Esquilon, Edward Jade Blanco, and Benedict Mangada – were jailed for four months each for the illegal discharge of firearms, while Antonio Bugayong was acquitted of all charges.

“This lamentable outcome shows how the Philippine justice system continues to fail the victims of police killings and brutality,” said the Philippine-based rights group Karapatan Alliance Philippines. 

It also supported calls on behalf of the victim's family for the reversal of the court ruling.

“We reiterate our support for the family of Jemboy Baltazar and all victims of police fascist violence," the rights group said.

Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay in a separate statement on Feb. 27 said the “Philippine justice system perpetuates a climate of impunity, where people in authority who commit crimes do not fully answer for their wrongdoings.”

The Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS), a non-profit, legal advocacy group representing the Baltazar Family, said the family “has been resolute in exhausting all legal avenues to secure the justice he [victim] deserves.”

Of the 19 cops involved, only six were taken to court and only one was convicted of homicide rather than of the filed murder charge, the group said.

Baltazar fell victim to a fatal gunshot to the head during a so-called “hot pursuit” operation to nab an alleged murder suspect.

His body was left submerged in water for around three hours before the police allowed his family to retrieve it, IDEALS added.

“This is murder in broad daylight...and it stems from institutions emboldened to disregard human rights and the rule of law, as a result of years of sidelining thousands of extrajudicial killings, harassment cases, and state-sponsored violence," it stressed.

IDEALS called on families of victims of extrajudicial killings and other rights violations to come forward and join the struggle to demand justice.

Former senator Leila De Lima said the light penalties on the guilty cops in the Baltazar case “does not convince us that justice has been served."

The Baltazar case is a rare one to have charges filed, yet the courts failed to do justice, she said stressing the need for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring perpetrators to justice.

The ICC started a probe in 2016 into former President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody anti-illegal narcotics campaign that left more than 6,000 people dead. However, the Philippines government has refused to cooperate with the investigation.

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