The killing of 17-year-old Jerhode Jemboy Baltazar on August 2, 2023, in Navotas, Metro-Manila, has brought the issue of brutal police violence in the fight against illegal drugs back into the media spotlight. As Jemboy and a friend were cleaning their fishing boat in the river near their home, police officers fired several gunshots at Jemboy. The latter fell into the river after being hit in the head and hand.
On August 29, 2023, the human rights group IDEALS filed murder charges against 19 police officers involved in the case; some among the accused police officers have already been charged with homicide.
PNP spokesman Colonel Jean Fajardo expressed that an autopsy should determine the upgrading of the charge to murder. Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun was able to indirectly confirm this in an autopsy. This was because the gunshot wounds to Jemboy’s head and right hand were evidence of a self-defensive gesture according to Fortun’s assessment. Moreover, Fortun pointed out that Jemboy would have survived if he had been taken out of the water immediately after the shooting.
The police officers did not act according to police protocol. Jemboy was unarmed and did not give the police officers any other reason to defend themselves. However, the latter justified the use of firearms on the basis of an alleged mistaken identity of the victim. The Supreme Court, in a 2020 ruling, found that the use of a firearm was legitimate only in the acute case of threat to life. Moreover, contrary to the regulation, the body cameras of the police officers were switched off during the operation.
In addition, police officers subsequently tried to pressure witnesses to the incident into making false statements regarding Jemboy’s alleged possession of drugs. Catholic Bishop Pablo Virgilio David called Jemboy’s murder exemplary of the “remnant of impunity” for police officers that reached a peak during the so-called “war on drugs” under former President Rodrigo Duterte.
Moreover, the case led to the ouster of Navotas City Police Chief Colonel Allan Umipig and 22 other police officers. Umipig had previously concealed that 11 other policemen were involved in the murder of the minor. One of these policemen was also still on duty despite an outstanding dismissal order.
The police’s disregard for procedural rules in the Jemboy case finally prompted Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos to order a review of police procedures. Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairman Richard Palpal-Iatoc also called for retraining of the Philippine National Police (PNP). According to Palpal-Iatoc, the procedural rules of the police should be more closely tied to human rights. Regarding protocols, he said the CHR should also be more involved in investigations of cases of drug-related extrajudicial killings. PNP chief Benjamin Acorda Jr. on the other hand opposed a quota system to review police protocols.
Photo © Raffy Lerma