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The Philippines public prosecutor’s office said it would seek murder charges on Friday against three anti-narcotics policemen whose killing of a high school student last week has triggered rare public outrage about the country’s fierce war on drugs. The death of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos on Aug. 16 in a rundown area of Manila has drawn huge domestic attention to allegations by activists that police have been systematically executing suspected users and dealers, a charge that authorities deny.
Persida Acosta, the head of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), said the complaint against the three policemen would be forwarded to the justice department on Friday. Delos Santos was found dead in an alley with a gun in his left hand. Police said they killed him in self defence, but his family said he had no weapon, was right-handed and had no involvement in drugs.
Security cameras showed the officers aggressively escorting a man matching delos Santos’ description towards the area where he was killed. The three policemen admit they were the people shown in the video, but that they were escorting another suspect, not delos Santos. PAO and police pathologists who did separate autopsies told a Senate hearing that delos Santos was shot from above, from close range. “It was cold-blooded murder, he was shot while kneeling down,” Acosta told news channel ANC.
“We are here for truth and justice so we have to file this immediately.” The complaint, if accepted, would follow at least two cases filed last year against police over President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has killed thousands of Filipinos, outraged human rights groups and alarmed Western governments. Most Filipinos however support the campaign, according to opinion polls, and domestic opposition has been muted.
Several police commanders relieved of their duty over the student’s killing told a Senate inquiry on Thursday that delos Santos was not the target of their operation, and his links to drug were known to them only the day after his death. Officers said they learned of his suspected links to drugs from another drug suspect, a cellphone and chatter circulating on social media. Delos Santos was among more than 90 people killed last week in three nights of intensified raids dubbed “One Time, Big Time”, which had Duterte’s steadfast support. The term refers to a coordinated police drive to stamp out crime in a particular district.
The teen’s killing puts focus on Duterte’s repeated promises to police administering the crackdown that he would insulate them from any legal consequences. Critics say his rhetoric is tantamount to giving police a license to kill. Duterte took a softer tone on Wednesday, telling police to arrest suspects and kill only if their lives were in danger, adding that he would not protect those who killed unarmed people.