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Caloocan Court Convicts Four Police Officers of Homicide in 2016 Drug War Operation

In a landmark decision, a Caloocan City court has convicted four police officers of homicide for the 2016 killing of a father and his son during a drug war operation. This marks only the fourth known conviction of law enforcement officials about drug war activities under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Caloocan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 121, presided over by Judge Ma. Rowena Violago Alejandria found Police Master Sergeant Virgilio Cervantes and Police Corporals Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre, and Artemio Saguros guilty of the homicide of Luis and Gabriel Bonifacio. The victims were killed during one of the early operations of Duterte’s controversial anti-drug campaign.

Initially charged with murder, the officers saw their charges downgraded to homicide by the Ombudsman, a move that has sparked significant public and legal interest. The downgrading of charges has raised questions about accountability and justice in the context of the drug war, which has been heavily criticized for its high death toll and allegations of human rights abuses.

The conviction is a rare instance of police officers being held criminally liable for deaths resulting from anti-drug operations. Since Duterte launched his aggressive campaign against illegal drugs, thousands of deaths have been reported, but very few cases have led to convictions. Human rights groups have continuously called for greater transparency and accountability in these operations, arguing that many of the killings were extrajudicial.

Various human rights advocates have hailed the court’s decision as a step towards justice for the victims of the drug war. However, they also emphasize the need for more comprehensive investigations and prosecutions to address the widespread allegations of abuse and misconduct by law enforcement officials.

This case, involving the deaths of Luis and Gabriel Bonifacio, underscores the ongoing struggle for justice and the need for judicial scrutiny over the actions taken during the drug war. As the Philippines continues to grapple with the legacy of Duterte’s campaign, the conviction of Cervantes, de Guzman, Alacre, and Saguros stands as a significant, though solitary, example of accountability in a sea of impunity.

The families of the victims, along with their supporters, expressed a mixture of relief and grief following the verdict. While the conviction provides a measure of justice, the loss of their loved ones remains a poignant reminder of the brutal reality of the drug war’s impact on countless Filipino families.