A new ‘nanlaban’ story
In life, Kian Loyd delos Santos was an ordinary young man. He had humble dreams for himself: to enter the Philippine National Police Academy and serve his country as a policeman. Meanwhile, he helped his father manage the family’s “sari-sari” or variety store and spent his free time after school roaming the neighborhood to meet with friends and classmates.
But in death, Kian has risen way above his humble origins. He has become an icon for all the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings, even though he was not the first to be killed or even the youngest fatality in the Duterte administration’s vicious war on drugs.
His killing at the hands of the Caloocan City police seemed to have set off a switch in the Filipino public’s consciousness. While before the shootouts and killings even of children merited little more than murmurs of concern, something about Kian’s killing, his last moments captured on community CCTV footage, sent a signal that things had gone way beyond the boundaries of decency or humanity.
“Please let me go, I have an exam tomorrow,” eyewitnesses said they had heard Kian plead with his captors. These simple words, uttered in sheer naivete and revealing his basic priority in life, touched the hearts of many.
Today, though, Kian must be happy in heaven, perhaps smiling and raising a fist in triumph, at the outcome of the trial of three policemen charged with his death.
PO1 Jerwin Cruz, PO3 Arnel Oares and PO1 Jeremias Pereda were found guilty of murder by Caloocan City RTC Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr. Azucena sentenced the three policemen to reclusion perpetua without eligibility of parole, which means that they may be doddering oldsters by the time they leave prison.
Of course, Kian’s family and friends, including the young people who stepped up as eyewitnesses to belie the police version of events—that Kian was shot in self-defense when he fired at the police—must be rejoicing as well. But they have had to pay a heavy price. Kian’s mother Lorenza left her job abroad to bury her son, and with her husband Saldy withstood six months of investigations and hearings. They joined the witness protection program, but no one knows how they will go on with their lives now that they have found justice for their son.
Even extended family members have suffered, with Kian’s paternal grandfather passing away due in part to stress caused by the boy’s death, while his uncle Randy, who assisted in efforts to unearth the truth and urged authorities to get hold of the crucial CCTV footage, lost his job. While some of the young witnesses, many of them Kian’s friends, also joined the witness protection program, they have missed months of classes and were separated from their families. What toll will this experience take on their emotional and mental stability?
Even as society counts the costs, though, the balance sheet will surely show that the gains from Kian’s trial far outweigh the heavy losses. Kian’s killing was the first to be resolved through the gamut of investigation, hearings and trial. In that sense, Kian’s is no longer an EJK, an extrajudicial killing, because it was fully (one hopes) pursued according to procedure, heard with the participation of witnesses and full use of scientific evidence, and tried in open court.
Azucena deserves admiration as well, for a verdict that most everyone deems fair. Against the sustained lies peddled by the police and the sweeping denial that EJKs ever took or are taking place in the country, he pronounced a ringing defense of the rule of law: “The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life.”
Dare we see this decision as among the first of many more instances of judicial independence, along with the decisions of Makati RTC Judge Andres Soriano defying the Department of Justice pleadings for the arrest of Sen. Antonio Trillanes? Is the country perhaps seeing the glimmer of some semblance of independence from the lower courts?
The phrase “nanlaban” (fought back) is often used by the police to justify their killing of drug suspects despite dubious circumstances. But with the conviction of the three policemen involved in Kian’s killing, the public is seeing a new form of “nanlaban” among citizens, under the mantle of Lady Justice.
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