After 7,000 deaths, the first case initiated on behalf of victims of “Operation Tokhang” was filed in the Supreme Court on Jan. 26. The case involved the killing of four men and the near-fatal shooting of another by Quezon City policemen in August 2016.
There are three notable groups of people in this heartbreaking story: the policemen, the victims and kin, and the lawyers.
The cold-blooded policemen. The five cops involved in the killing are as cruel as they can get. They are P/SI Emil Garcia, PO3 Allan Formilleza, PO1 James Aggarao, PO1 Melchor Navisaga, and another.
The policemen also ransacked a victim’s house and made off with electronic gadgets and jewelry. They next solicited food and drinks from a relative of a victim, and ate right where they had just killed four men.
Upon learning of one survivor brought to a hospital, the policemen guarded him. They then filed bogus criminal charges of assault against him, even claiming that the victims mocked them with an unbelievable dare: “Hindi kami papahuli nang buhay (We will not be taken alive!)!”
Four months after the killings, the policemen keep returning to the area to intimidate the entire community whose members served as witnesses to their crimes.
The poor victims and their fearful kin. The victims are dirt-poor and the families they left behind are as fearful as they can get.
The four men killed were Marcelo Daa Jr., Raffy Gabo, Anthony Comendo and Jessie Cule, all garbage collectors. Taken together, they left behind eight children.
The killing of Jessie was heartbreaking to his partner, Marilyn. How he was killed was recounted to her by a 14-year-old who witnessed it: Jessie begged for his life, crying and hugging the knees of one policeman. But the policeman ignored his pleas and shot him in the nape. For Marilyn, what rubbed salt on the wound was that after the brutal killing, the perpetrators falsely announced on TV that Jessie was involved in illegal drugs.
The lone survivor, Efren Morillo, did not complete grade school. Despite this disadvantage, he is very enterprising and hardworking. As a vegetable vendor, he is the breadwinner for both his immediate family (he has two young boys) and his parents.
The incident put Efren’s family in dire financial straits. His hospital bills amounted to P40,000. His parents were forced to sell their house for P100,000 to pay for the medical bills. With Efren unable to work because of the danger to his life, the family has very little income.
The brave lawyers. The lawyers who filed the case are as courageous as they can get. They belong to the Center for International Law (Centerlaw), an organization of 12 young lawyers who render legal services to poor or persecuted clients on violations of human rights, freedom of expression, persecution, and other public interest issues.
This case of extrajudicial killing is just one of the many high-profile cases handled by Centerlaw lawyers. They represent the families of 15 victims in the Ampatuan massacre, the group of Filipino rape victims during the Japanese Occupation called “Malaya Lolas,” the family of Jennifer Laude who was killed by US soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton, and the 42 journalists who were sued for libel by then first gentleman Mike Arroyo, among others.
The Centerlaw team is led by Tin Antonio and Gil Anthony Aquino, who went to the killing site to interview witnesses and worked day and night for the case build-up. (I serve as Centerlaw president, but complete credit goes to these young lawyers.)
The Supreme Court has swiftly acted by prohibiting the policemen from getting within a one-kilometer radius of the residences and workplaces of the complainants. The cruel, the fearful, and the brave will meet on the first day of trial set on Feb. 10.
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