EDITORIAL - No ‘nanlaban’

The Philippine Star

In defending the killing of over 6,000 people on mere suspicion that they were involved in the illegal drug trade, law enforcers invoke the presumption of regularity in carrying out their work.

This presumption, however, is trumped by the constitutionally guaranteed right to be presumed innocent, and cannot constitute proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, according to Judge Gloria Monica Lopez-Lao of the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court’s Branch 133.

In a decision promulgated last Friday, the judge cleared Efren Morillo of charges that he had fired at a police team that had raided a suspected drug den in Payatas, Quezon City on Aug. 21, 2016. Four of Morillo’s companions died in the raid. Morillo was shot in the chest but played dead, and managed to escape and survive. He was later arrested and charged with fighting back or nanlaban and shooting at the police team.

The judge determined that the three police raiders did not see Morillo fire a gun, and failed to establish his ownership of the weapon. It was learned that the policeman Morillo was supposed to have shot was not at the raid. A paraffin test on Morillo also indicated he had not fired a gun.

“The presumption of regularity is disputable and cannot be regarded as binding truth,” the judge ruled.

In January 2017, Morillo also challenged Oplan Tokhang before the Supreme Court, and filed administrative and criminal complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman against the police raiding team. These cases have not yet been resolved.

Morillo’s acquittal fuels questions on how pervasive such abuses of police power might have been in the conduct of the bloody campaign waged by the previous administration on the illegal drug trade.

The acquittal should also provide impetus to speed up the investigation of the drug deaths. The Philippine National Police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency are invoking presumption of regularity in the killing of over 6,000 drug personalities during the six years of the Duterte administration.

On the other hand, relatives of most of the victims as well as human rights advocates believe many of the fatalities were victims of extrajudicial killings. Several policemen have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the torture and killing of three teenage drug suspects: Kian Loyd delos Santos, 17; Carl Arnaiz, 19, and 14-year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.

With over 6,000 deaths, the three cases constitute just a drop in the bucket. Authorities have finished reviewing only 52 of the killings so far, but the government has committed to expand the review. Speeding up the process will provide solid proof that the criminal justice system is functioning, and the country is willing and able to investigate abuses and give justice to victims.


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