Philippine police officer jailed for killing teens in ‘drug war’

Ex-officer found guilty of murdering two teenagers aged 14 and 19, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Relatives of drug war victims hold photographs of their slain loved ones with placards calling for justice, during a protest to commemorate President Rodrigo Duterte's final year in office, in Manila, Philippines, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
Relatives of drug war victims hold photographs of their slain loved ones with placards calling for justice, during a protest in Manila, the Philippines, in June 2021 [File: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

A police officer in the Philippines has been found guilty of murdering two teenagers in a rare conviction linked to the country’s so-called “war on drugs” in which former President Rodrigo Duterte urged officers to eliminate drug suspects, local media reported.

More than 6,200 people, according to official figures, were killed in the bloody anti-narcotics campaign during Duterte’s six-year term which ended in 2022.

A United Nations report in 2021 found that 8,663 people had been killed in anti-drug operations, while the Philippines Commission on Human Rights and local human rights groups believe the death toll could be as much as three times higher.

Ex-police officer Jefrey Perez was found guilty on March 1 and sentenced to 20 years in jail for murdering Reynaldo De Guzman, 14, and Carl Arnaiz, 19, in 2017, according to local media reports on Tuesday citing court documents.

Perez was already serving a lengthy jail sentence after being found guilty by a court in November of torturing and planting evidence on the same teenagers. A co-accused, police officer Ricky Arquilita, died during the first trial. Both denied the charges. Perez was also ordered to pay compensation to the “families of the victims for the deaths of their sons”, local media outlet Rappler reported.

Just three police officers have previously been found guilty of a single killing related to the ex-president’s drug war campaign, which is being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The slain teenagers in the Perez case were last seen together on August 17, 2017.

A witness testified in court that he saw a police car parked on the side of a road and watched as a handcuffed Arnaiz left the vehicle with hands raised, shouting “I will surrender” before being gunned down by the police officers. De Guzman’s body was later found north of the capital, Manila, with dozens of stab wounds.

“Arnaiz and De Guzman, who were neighbours in Cainta Rizal, decided to go out for a snack on the evening of August 18, 2017, but failed to return home,” local news outlet BusinessMirror reported.

“Ten days later, their bodies were found in a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija, with Arnaiz sustaining gunshot wounds while De Guzman was stabbed 30 times,” it reported.

Current Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr has promised to pursue the drug war but with a focus on prevention and rehabilitation rather than killing.

Human rights groups say the killings have continued.

The ICC said in January it would resume its investigation as it was “not satisfied” with the Philippines’ handling of the matter.

Duterte announced in March 2018 that he would withdraw the Philippines from the ICC and that he would not cooperate with any investigation.

However, the ICC still had jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed up until March 2019, when the Philippines’ withdrawal from the court became official.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies