CHR assails delay in arrest of 3 cops charged with murder in 2020 death of Spanish national

Published July 6, 2022, 6:50 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

Commission on Human Rights (CHR)

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has assailed the delay in the enforcement of an arrest order issued last March 25 against three policemen who were charged in court with murder and planting of evidence in the killing of Spanish national Diego Lafuente in Surigao del Norte on Jan. 8, 2020.

In a statement, CHR Executive Director Jacqueline Ann de Guia said the “unreasonable delays in legal proceedings for failing to implement a warrant of arrest causes a breakdown in the justice system as it prevents timely and effective legal redress to the aggrieved.”

“This delay, despite the accused officers having been informed of the charges against them and the issuance of the warrant of arrest on 25 March 2022, goes beyond the reasonable promptness required in the effective administration of justice,” De Guia said.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed before the regional trial court (RTC) criminal charges against PCapt. Wise Vicente B. Panuelos, PSgt. Ronel A. Pazo, and PSgt. Nido Boy E. Cantos who were members of the Gen. Luna municipal police force in Surigao del Norte.

The filing of the charges in court was a result of the preliminary investigation conducted on the complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Those charged claimed that Lafuente was the number one drug personality in the Caraga Region and that they were forced to defend themselves when he drew a firearm during an anti-illegal drugs operation on Jan. 8, 2020.

They also claimed that a .45 caliber pistol and cocaine weighing 8.3326 grams were recovered from Lafuente.

“However, after the evaluation of the evidence submitted by the NBI, the Panel of Prosecutors found that there is sufficient ground to charge respondents with Murder and Planting of Evidence under the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act of 2013,” the DOJ said.

“Although there were no eyewitnesses in the killing of Diego Lafuente, the recommendations of the panel of prosecutors were based on the SOCO (Scene of the Crime Office) report and forensic results that disproved the claim of respondents of a shootout,” it pointed out.

It said the physical evidence shows that “the placement of the fired cartridge cases (FCC) from the service firearms (9mm) of PCapt. Panuelos and PSsgt. Cortes and the FCCs from the alleged firearm (Cal. 45) of Deigo Lafuente were in close distance with each other, found in a triangular area.”

If indeed there was a shootout, the OPG said “the placement of the FCCs should be on opposite sides.”

“Moreover, the investigation showed that after Diego Lafuente jumped over the perimeter wall, he was shot by PSsgt. Cortes as evidenced by a 9mm FCC found underneath the ground located near the area where Diego Lafuente was lying,” it said.

“The crossmatching examination revealed that the 9mm FCC matched with and was fired from the firearm of PSsgt. Cortes,” it added.

The CHR lamented that more than three months after the issuance of the arrest order, the three police officers have yet to be arrested and presented to the trial court for hearings on the charges.

De Guia, a lawyer, said the CHR is urging the Philippine National Police (PNP) to “exert all efforts to locate the accused so that legal proceedings may continue and both the accused and the aggrieved may seek the remedy of the courts in the pursuit of justice.”

She pointed out that the speedy and impartial resolution of cases is a key step in ensuring the improvement of the country’s justice system – especially those cases involving alleged human rights violations in the campaign against illegal drugs.

For its part, she said the CHR will continue to monitor Lafuente’s case in line with its independent mandate as a National Human RIghts Institution (NHRI).