THE Office of the Ombudsman said Tuesday it is investigating the killing of 17-year-old student Kian Loyd delos Santos in a police operation on Aug. 16, even as the Justice department said the boy’s parents have been placed under its witness protection program
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said her office is open to witnesses or interested parties who want to help in its investigation.
The probe by the Ombudsman would be the fourth into a case that has provoked public outrage. The Senate, the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation are also investigating the case.
Police involved in the killing said Kian tried to flee arrest and opened fire on them, prompting them to shoot back, an account that was disputed by CCTV footage, eyewitnesses, and autopsy findings that showed the teenager had not fired a gun.
The Delos Santos family on Friday filed murder complaints against relieved Caloocan City Police Station 7 chief Chief Insp. Amor Cerillo, and the three officers tagged in the killing, PO3 Arnel Oares, PO1 Jerwin Cruz, and PO1 Jeremias Pereda.
Oares, Cruz, and Pereda were also charged with violating the anti-torture law.
On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte met with Kian’s parents, Saldy and Lorenza, and assured them that there would be no cover-up in the investigation.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said Kian’s parents were granted provisional coverage under the witness protection program after they went to the Justice department to apply for it.
“We immediately accommodated them,” Aguirre said.
He said this development should silence critics who have accused him of prejudging the case in favor of the policemen involved in Kian’s death.
“This just shows that contrary to the unfounded allegations of bias hurled against me by some ill-motivated or ill-informed sectors, the parents of Kian Delos Santos have full faith and confidence with me and the DoJ in the handling of their son’s case,” he said.
Aguirre also rejected calls that he resign for showing bias in the case, saying he served at the pleasure of the President.
An eyewitness in Kian’s killing who is in the custody of the Public Attorney’s Office has submitted an affidavit to the Justice department.
The female witness, identified as alias Choleng, said Kian was already under the custody of the policemen before he was killed. She said she saw the police officers fetch Kian from his house.
“I saw the policemen carrying Kian. One of them was holding Kian’s neck with his arms. They brought Kian to the lower basketball court of our barangay,” the affidavit said in Filipino.
Choleng said she even confronted the policemen after learning that Kian was shot dead.
“Why did you kill the kid? You shouldn’t have killed him. You should have jailed him instead,” she recalled telling the police.
PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said they would ask the Justice department to include the eyewitness under WPP coverage.
The eyewitness account was supported by CCTV footage.
A forensic exam conducted by PAO showed Kian suffered a gunshot wound to the back and two to the head while he was lying face down on the ground.
The PAO submitted these findings to support the murder and torture charges against the policemen, citing the clear presence of treachery.
There are reportedly three other witnesses under the custody of Senator Risa Hontiveros
The Palace on Tuesday said there was no attempt to manipulate public opinion on the government’s war on drugs after the President met Kian’s parents.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte simply heeded the couple’s request to meet, and merely offered a “humane” response to a “poignant” situation.
“The President does not want to manage his message so it’s not a question of, ‘Was this planned? It’s simply was an honest-to-goodness response to a particularly poignant situation that needed to be addressed in the most humane way possible,” he said.
“What is truly important is they were able to talk, to meet, and they [Kian’s parents] were assured by the President that justice will be fully served.”
Abella also said the President will remain objective in the case, despite his repeated defense of cops engaging in brutal anti-drug operations.
Earlier, Aguirre rejected calls to transfer the investigation of the case to the Office of the Ombudsman, saying it can only handle cases that fall within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.
“The Ombudsman can only handle cases of public officials with salary grade of 27 and above, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan,” he said.
“In Kian’s case, the policemen who are named respondents have lower salary grades so the jurisdiction is with the RTC [regional trial court], not with Sandiganbayan,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre made the statement after receiving on Tuesday a letter from the group of youth leaders and Fr. Reyes seeking transfer of the preliminary investigation to the Ombudsman because of his statements on the case, which critics said were biased.
Aguirre also dismissed calls that he recuse himself from involvement with the case.
Also on Tuesday, the Palace told UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial and Summary Killings, Agnes Callamard, to get to the root of the issue.
Defending the President’s use of expletives against Callamard, Abella said the rapporteur needs to know more about the situation on the ground before speaking up.
Shortly after Duterte’s response, Callamard issued a statement saying: “I regret President Duterte’s response to my condolences to Kian Loyd delos Santos’ family. Kian and others like him deserve dignity and justice. His family and families like his demand our respect and empathy. Not expletives,” Callamard said.
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