Fourth conviction of police officers in drug-related killing case

On June 18, 2024, the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court convicted four police officers for the killing of Luis Bonifacio and his son Gabriel Bonifacio in 2016 during an anti-drug operation. Police Master Sergeant Virgilio Q. Servantes and Police Corporals Arnel De Guzman, Johnston M. Alacre, and Argemio Saguros Jr. were found guilty of homicide with a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison. They were also ordered to pay a total of 400,000 pesos in damages to the bereaved families of the victims.

The court decision is considered the fourth conviction of police officers in the tens of thousands of cases of extrajudicial killings in the context of the so-called “war on drugs” under the former Duterte government. So far, there have been four convictions in three separate cases of drug-related killings with a total of five fatalities. These include the conviction of three police officers in 2018 in the killing of Kian delos Santos and the double conviction of patrolman Jeffrey Perez in 2022 and 2023 for the torture and murder of Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman respectively.

On September 15, 2016, Luis Bonifacio and his son Gabriel were shot dead in their home in Caloocan, a suburb of Manila, during a police anti-drug operation. Around 15 to 20 police officers stormed the house to arrest Luis Bonifacio. The police officers dragged his wife and children outside the house; shots were fired shortly afterwards. Luis Bonifacio died at the scene, while his son Gabriel, who never left his side, succumbed to his injuries in hospital.

In 2017, Bonifacio’s wife Mary Ann Domingo filed a murder charge with the Ombudsman’s Office against the police officers who had shot her husband and son a year earlier. However, after a four-year investigation, her application was downgraded to a charge of homicide. Domingo’s attempts to challenge this decision in court were rejected by the Supreme Court on the grounds that no intent to kill could be proven.

According to the police reports, the officers had to defend themselves with their firearms in the course of a failed drug buy, which resulted in the killing of Bonifacio and his son. Local organizations Rise Up and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) independently collected testimonies and evidence in the case that told a different story – that Luis and Gabriel Bonifacio were unarmed and pleading for their lives. Of the 200 drug-related killing cases supported by Rise Up and the NUPL, legal proceedings were initiated in only 20 cases. Six of these cases resulted in formal complaints, of which only two resulted in charges and one in conviction.

The Philippine Department of Justice has cited this latest conviction as proof that the national justice system is working. However, there are thousands of unsolved cases of drug-related killings, which is why impunity remains a problem in the Philippines. The Dahas monitoring project at the University of the Philippines has documented 700 drug-related killings under Marcos Jr. by the end of June 2024.


Photo © Raffy Lerma

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