HomeCommentaryA Bittersweet Conviction

A Bittersweet Conviction

It took Mary Ann Domingo nearly eight years of relentless struggle to achieve a semblance of justice for the death of her partner, Luis, and her son, Gabriel Bonifacio.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 18, 2024, Judge Rowena Alejandria of Caloocan RTC 121 delivered a guilty verdict against four Caloocan police officers. These officers had admitted their presence and involvement in the alleged buy-bust operation that resulted in the deaths of Luis, aged 45, and his son Gabriel, aged 19, back in 2016.

PMSgt. Virgilio Cervantes, PCpl. Arnel De Guzman, PCpl. Johnston Alacre, and PCpl. Artemio Saguros were sentenced to a minimum of 6-8 years and a maximum of 10 years in jail. Each was also ordered to pay ₱400,000 in damages to the victim’s family.

On the night of September 15, 2016, police drug enforcement operatives burst into the Bonifacio residence while the family was sleeping.

The family was awakened with guns pointed at their heads; Mary Ann and the children were herded out, while Luis was forced to kneel on the floor.

Gabriel refused to leave, begging the police for his father’s life. As Mary Ann and the children were dragged into the street, shots rang out, and the officers were heard yelling “nanlalaban,” a phrase commonly used by police in Duterte’s so-called drug war to justify killings.

Mary Ann and NUPL-NCR lawyer Julian Oliva described the verdict as a “partial victory” because the officers were convicted of homicide instead of murder, the original charge they had filed.

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This verdict is a bittersweet moment for Mary Ann and other widows still fighting for justice. It offers them a glimmer of hope to continue their fight, believing that real justice might someday be achieved through their collective efforts.

While the conviction may impact police rhetoric, we must hope it leads to accountability and future changes in police operational procedures to prevent similar incidents.

This case marks only the fourth conviction among thousands killed under Duterte’s brutal campaign, which disregarded human life.

Only minor figures have been offered as sacrificial lambs to suggest that the country is conducting investigations and that there is a functioning judicial system, ostensibly to appease international scrutiny.

Vincent Go is a veteran photojournalist and a human rights activist who documented the government’s war on drugs campaign.

All photos by Vincent Go

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