Fisherfolk condemns lenient verdict against police killers of Navotas minor

This article is available in Pilipino

The extremely light sentence of the Navotas City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 286 against policemen accused of killing 17-year-old fisherman Jehrode “Jemboy” Baltazar on August 2, 2023 is a “denial of justice” for the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya). Baltazar was killed by the police in a hail of bullets after mistaking him for a suspect.

According to reports, Baltazar was cleaning his boat, along with another, in the river in Barangay NBBS Kaunlaran, Navotas City when PNP-Navotas City police arrived on August 2, 2023. Police say Baltazar jumped into the river, before they opened fire. But his brother says police opened fire before the victim fell into the river. While in the water, a hail of bullets fell on him causing his death.

A bullet hit his right hand, which was a “defensive wound,” while another hit him behind his ear, with an “exit wound” through his nose. Three hours passed before the police retrieved his body from the water. Dr. Raquel Fortun, a forensic pathologist, said there was a possibility that Baltazar would have been alive had he been pulled from the river immediately.

In the court’s verdict, only one of the six police officers charged with murder was found guilty of the lesser crime of homicide. The other five were only sentenced for illegal discharge of firearms.

Police Staff Sergeant Gerry Maliban faces just four years of imprisonment in accordance with his sentence. He was also ordered to pay ₱50,000 in damages for his crime. Except for the six who were formally charged and convicted, police officers involved in the crime were only placed under “administrative suspension” last year.

“All the policemen involved in the killing deserve to be jailed…the recent sentence against the policemen is outrageous and must be condemned,” according to Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya’s national spokesperson. He insisted that this is a very clear manifestation of “impunity” or the state’s blatant disregard for the lives of ordinary citizens.

This is also the sentiment of Karapatan. According to Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the group, “the light sentence and weak punishment of the policemen…shows how the justice system in the Philippines perpetuates impunity, with those in power who commit crimes not made fully accountable.”

The teenager’s family also maintains that the punishment imposed on those who murdered their son was not enough. “He will only be imprisoned for four years. My son is gone forever. They connived to shoot my son, then what? That’s it? They were set free,” said Balatazar’s mother.

She was outraged at how the police treated his son like a dog or a cat. “Where is justice, the justice for my son?” he said.

Pamalakaya extends its condolences to Baltazar’s family. “We stand in solidarity with Baltazar’s family, his friends and human rights defenders in the fight against this injustice,” Hicap added. He said, their group and human rights defenders will continue their struggle to obtain justice and prevent this kind of crime by state forces from happening again.

AB: Fisherfolk condemns lenient verdict against police killers of Navotas minor