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Remembering Kian, Carl, and Kulot: Search for justice and accountability continues

The recent court ruling on the death of 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman shows that the call for justice for victims of the so-called “war on drugs” is far from over. This is only the second conviction in the illegal drugs campaign of the Duterte administration, where more than 100 children and more than 12,000 have been reportedly killed.

The first case was the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos that led to the conviction of three police officers in 2018. While the verdict was long overdue, it is still a step toward bringing closure to those they left behind. Former policeman Jeffrey Perez was found guilty of killing Arnaiz and De Guzman by the Navotas Regional Trial Court and sentenced to reclusion perpetua without eligibility of parole, with an order to pay damages to the families of both. In 2017, Arnaiz was reported missing, with his body later found in a funeral home. Police reports said that he robbed a taxi driver and fought back (“nanlaban”) at the lawmen, which led to his death. The body of his friend De Guzman was meanwhile found floating in a creek, riddled with stab wounds.

The verdict on their case is an assurance to the families of thousands similarly killed that justice can still be served, no matter how long it takes. For the Public Attorney’s Office, the ruling is proof that the Philippine justice system is working and that the government does not tolerate excesses, even among law enforcers.

But then again, if the justice system is truly working, then the government should see the resumption of the investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) this year as opportune. This is one way to show that we Filipinos have not forgotten the likes of Kian, Carl, and Kulot, and should prove that even after our government has requested deferment of the ICC investigation in 2021 and withdrew from the Rome Statute in 2019, it is serious about delivering justice through all possible means. If the arrest warrant recently issued by the ICC to Russian President Vladimir Putin were any indication, Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ words ring true: “The world will not idly watch while … crimes against humanity are being committed.”

Pursuing justice, though difficult, is never futile, said a statement by the Child Rights Network. The call for justice and accountability does not end. If our goal is a Philippine society where everyone’s dignity is upheld and every child is protected, it is important that everyone’s right to life is given primacy. It is imperative for our law enforcers to recognize that the life of every Filipino, even those who allegedly used drugs, is valuable and that everyone has the right to due process.

Justice is not only about having a guilty person convicted but is also about having institutions and policies that enable us to live without fear of being falsely accused because of planted evidence. It is about living without the threat of being killed in broad daylight or in the wee hours of the night by the agents of the law. It is about having duty bearers who honor and uphold human rights not only because it is our international commitment, but because they know that it is just. Remembering Kian, Carl, and Kulot is not only about demanding justice and accountability. It is about remembering those who died in the “war on drugs” and upholding human rights every day in every possible way.

First published as a Letter to the Editor in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.

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