Court rejects 'nanlaban' claim, jails cop for killing motorcycle rider

MANILA, Philippines – A court in Makati City sentenced a Philippine National Police (PNP) Highway Patrol Group (HPG) cop to 12 years in jail for killing a motorcycle rider arrested for a traffic violation in July 2016.

In a decision dated January 30, the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 145 found PO2 Jonjie Manon-og guilty of homicide over the death of John dela Riarte, despite his defense that the killing was a case of "nanlaban" (the suspect fighting back).

Presiding Judge Carlito Calpatura found that "the killing was intentional," based on the locations of at least 3 gunshot wounds. The victim's heart, lungs, and intestines were targeted, proving that the shooter's intent was "to kill rather than to disable the victim," states the court ruling.

Dela Riarte, then 29, had been arrested by Manon-og and PO3 Jeremiah de Villa on July 29, 2016 after a traffic altercation with another motorist, Eric Fajardo.

Dela Riarte was supposedly handcuffed, but shot to death en route to the HPG headquarters in Camp Crame. The two cops claimed that Dela Riarte grabbed the gun of Manon-og, prompting a shootout.

A month after the incident, De Villa was said to have committed suicide while under restrictive custody at the HPG headquarters. Before his death, he admitted shooting Dela Riarte twice in the police car.

Manon-og also told the court that he heard only two gunshots from De Villa. Forensic evidence showed, however, that Dela Riarte bore 5 gunshot wounds.

"The fact that PO3 De Villa admitted that he shot the victim does not necessarily mean that herein accused Manon-og did not also shoot the victim," Calpatura said in the ruling. "De Villa never made any declaration that the accused Manon-og never shot the victim or that the latter is innocent."

Calpatura also noted that the two cops did not bring the victim to the hospital, and proceeded to Camp Crame where they washed their hands after the shooting. This established that the two cops agreed to kill the victim "under the much abused scheme of 'nanlaban.'"

Manon-og also admitted in court that Dela Riarte was not able to "totally" get possession of his gun. He also could not remember if the victim was able to free himself from the handcuffs during the shooting.

"It would be highly difficult, if not impossible for any person with both hands locked on his back, to grab a gun on his side," Calpatura said. "This is simply unbelievable and contrary to human experience and common sense."

Homicide vs murder

While it was proven that the cops had the intent to kill, there was not enough evidence presented in court to prove that they took advantage of their position in killing the victim.

In order for one to be charged with murder, there must be evidence of "abuse of superior strength," which is "to use excessive force out of proportion to the means of defense available to the person attacked."

Since there was no evidence that they took advantage of Dela Riarte being handcuffed, the court downgraded the initial charge of murder to homicide.

Aside from 8 to 12 years of imprisonment, Manon-og was also ordered to pay the victim's family P100,000 for both civil indemnity and moral damages, P189,159 for actual damages, and P3.2 million for loss of earnings.

Manon-og will be detained at the Muntinlupa City Jail. – Rappler.com