OMB rules: Homicide not murder or robbery in PNP’s ‘tokhang’ operation in Caloocan City

Published June 14, 2021, 5:58 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

Office of the Ombudsman

The policemen involved in the botched “tokhang” operation conducted on Sept. 15, 2016 in Caloocan City — where Luis Bonifacio and his son, Gabriel Louis, died — should be charged with homicide, not murder or robbery.

This was the ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) in its joint order dated March 8, 2021. The order denied the motion for reconsideration filed by complainant, Mary Ann N. Domingo.

“Oplan Tokhang” was previously implemented by the Philippine National Police (PNP) whereby policemen visited houses in search for illegal drugs.

Domingo would have wanted the OMB to reconsider its Jan. 15, 2020 resolution that dismissed the charges for violation of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) Article 248 (Murder) and Article 293 (Robbery) against the involved policemen.

The contested resolution found probable cause for two counts of homicide under Article 249 against MSgt. Virgilio Q. Cervantes, Cpl. Arnel C. De Guzman, Cpl. Johnston Alacre, and Cpl. Artemio S. Saguros Jr. — all from the Northern Police District Office.

They had been found guilty of grave misconduct and had been suspended for one month without pay.

Maj. Avelino U. Andaya of the NPD – Crime Laboratory Office, SSgt. Edgar L. Manapat and Pat. Aldrin Matthew A. Matining of the Caloocan City Police Station, SSgt. Reymel A. Villanueva, and SSgt. Harol Jake A. Dela Rosa were found guilty of simple neglect of duty and slapped with one month suspension from service without pay.

The administrative complaints against Lt. Col. Ali Jose A. Duterte, Maj. Timothy B. Aniway Jr., CInsp. Jonathan Victor M. Olveña, MSgt. Alberto R. Sucgang, SMSgt. Joel J. Saludes, SSgt. John Cezar S. Mendoza, SSgt. Richard Y. Ramos, Cpl. Orlando Lucky Boy O. De Leon, Pat. Randy M. Chua, Pat. Carlo Miguel L. Daniel, and Pat. Ruby A. Dumaguing were ordered dismissed.

The OMB ordered the dismissal of the charges for murder and robbery against all the respondents.

In her motion, Domingo pointed to “serious errors of law” and “irregularities in the appreciation of the evidence she submitted,” and begged the OMB to hold all respondents liable for murder and robbery and not just homicide.

She said that the respondents took advantage of their strength and resources to kill both Luis and Gabriel since “the police operation in her barangay was conducted by more than 20 operatives in full battle gear and masked, of which five operatives barged into her house.”

She further claimed that the policemen assaulted both Luis and Gabriel. She questioned the legality of the operation since, she said, it violated the constitutional guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.

However, the OMB found “no justification” to reconsider its earlier findings. “A careful examination of said motion would show that it miserably failed to specify in what aspect of the law or the facts that this Office has erred in coming up with the assailed Joint Resolution,” the OMB said.

“Considering that the Motions of all movants neither introduce any newly discovered evidence which materially affects the findings of this Office, nor point to any errors of law or irregularities committed that are prejudicial to them, the same are denied,” it added.

Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Benedict Byron C. Villanueva wrote the joint order with the concurrence of Acting Director Yvette Marie S. Evaristo. Approval was recommended by Acting Assistant Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) Dennis L. Garcia. Cyril E. Ramos, Deputy Ombudsman for MOLEO, approved.

In her Sinumpaang Salaysay Ng Paghahabla, Domingo said that policemen barged into her house around 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2016 with long firearms. She said they were all held at gunpoint.

She said the policemen were more focused on her husband, Luis, while she and her other children were forcibly brought down the stairs and eventually out of the house.

She pointed out that when she heard gunshots coming from their house, she sought help from barangay tanods (village watchmen). However, she claimed the tanods on duty were all helpless against the cops.

She said that when she returned to their house, blood was scattered all over the floor together with empty plastic sachets. Some of their valuables, such as a bracelet, wristwatch, cell phone, and wallet containing cash were missing, she said.

She also said that neighbors claimed that Gabriel was begging for their lives but was still shot because the police said they were “nanlalaban (fighting back).” Both father and son were rushed to the hospital but were declared dead on arrival.