The ordered arrest and detention of two policemen believed to have tortured, killed and framed two teenagers last August are welcome developments to a public languishing in a climate of impunity that has served to protect those who blatantly break the laws they are sworn to enforce.
Caloocan Regional Trial Court Branch 122 recommended no bail for PO1 Ricky Arquilita and PO1 Jeffrey Perez for the murder of Carl Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.
These developments provide a boost to the rebooted “Oplan Tokhang,” the administration’s war on drugs, that has been marked by the killing of thousands of suspected drug users and pushers, mostly impoverished.
Of course, how the case against the two rookie cops will turn out is subject for public vigilance. The release and reinstatement of the police officers charged with killing Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, in November 2016 are too shocking to be forgotten.
Arnaiz, 19, a former University of the Philippines student, was killed only days after the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, who was shot thrice in a raid that identified him as a drug runner and had police claiming that he had fired on them.
Police said Arnaiz had robbed a taxi driver and exchanged gunfire with officers. But in an autopsy by the forensic laboratory service of the Public Attorney’s Office, Arnaiz’s body was found with deep abrasions and marks showing that he was cuffed, dragged and severely beaten before being killed.
The discovery of Arnaiz’s body in a morgue by his parents was accompanied by a frenzied search for the last person seen with him, 14-year-old De Guzman.
When De Guzman did not turn up for days, people feared the worst. Those fears turned too real on Sept. 5, when his body was fished out of a creek in Nueva Ecija.
The National Bureau of Investigation’s forensic examination showed that De Guzman had been stabbed 26 times, with some of the thrusts piercing his lungs and heart.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the examination results also showed that De Guzman was repeatedly stabbed even when he was already dead.
These deaths weighed heavily on the public consciousness not only because of Arnaiz and De Guzman’s — and even Delos Santos’ — youth, but also because of the brutality of their killing.
In the end, Arquilita and Perez were tagged as the culprits — both rookies, new to the police force yet so quick to be implicated in crime.
Because the Philippine National Police is tasked with enforcing President Duterte’s war on drugs, it has also become the face of Oplan Tokhang’s excesses.
It bears noting that the public breathed a sigh of relief when the antidrug operations were shifted to the jurisdiction of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency last year.
But with the relaunch of Oplan Tokhang, which PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa has described as “bloodless” — in contrast, one supposes, to the blood spilled almost nightly in the dark alleys of the metropolis in the course of antidrug operations — the public is offered hope of change in police behavior.
The Caloocan court’s order for the arrest and detention without bail of Arquilita and Perez is a rare blow against impunity, but there is so much more to be done.
And there is no forgetting the case of Mayor Espinosa, a suspected big-time drug pusher, who was brazenly shot dead in his prison cell in the dead of night along with an unfortunate fellow inmate.
As many as 19 officers led by Supt. Marvin Marcos were implicated in and charged with the killing of Espinosa. But the charge was quickly downgraded to homicide, allowing the police officers to post bail and be released. By midyear last year, Marcos and his men had been reinstated to their posts on the President’s orders.
To think — lest it be forgotten — that the NBI itself declared the killing of Espinosa an outright “rubout.” To think that Sen. Panfilo Lacson, himself a former PNP chief, tagged it an “extrajudicial killing.”
On Marcos’ reinstatement, Lacson warned of “deeper implications,” adding: “Police scalawags may now invoke his case as precedent and demand to be given field assignments.”
Those hopeful of the ordered arrest and detention of Arquilita and Perez may recall Lacson’s words, and shudder.
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