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Inconsistencies in Santa Rosa killing

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In March 2017, Human Rights Watch released a report on the first year of the “drug war” killings. One case occurred nearly a month before Duterte took office, although the killings were already happening after he won the May 2016 election. The family of the victim, Edwin Ronda from Santa Rosa City, blamed Duterte for his death. Below are excerpts from the HRW report:

EDWIN Ronda, 30, was a construction worker who lived with his parents in Santa Rosa City about 40 kilometers south of Manila. When his father suspected him of being involved in drug dealing in 2015, he surrendered his son to police custody. Ronda’s subsequent arrest and prosecution resulted in a one-year prison term that ended in February 2016. Ronda’s family believed that he had steered away from drugs following his release as he was aware that his staunchly anti-drugs family would again turn him over to the police if he again dealt drugs.

A relative told Human Rights Watch that Ronda went out drinking with a group of friends on the evening of June 7 in the nearby town of Biñan. At about 5 a.m. on June 8, Ronda took a [tricycle] home with a friend. On their way, while in the area of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Santa Rosa, they passed a white van with at least three plainclothes armed men inside, who stopped the [tricycle], and identified themselves as policemen. Ronda’s friend ran away, but the armed men detained Ronda and told the driver of the [tricycle] to leave.

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Ronda’s family later learned from his friend that the armed men took Ronda into the van and drove off, but apparently remained in the vicinity of the university. Ronda’s relative told Human Rights Watch that people in the area heard gunshots. When they went to investigate, they found Ronda’s body near the university’s basketball court just 100 meters from where he had been detained by the police. He had a gunshot wound to the temple and what looked like ligature marks near his neck. A .38 caliber handgun and packets of drugs were found near his body. The policemen and the white van were not at the scene when the body was discovered, but Scene of Crimes Operatives (SOCO) investigative officers arrived soon after.

The police report of the incident, signed by the chief of police of the Santa Rosa City Police Station in Laguna, offered a version of events inconsistent with the witness account. The report states that police killed Ronda during a “buy-bust” operation, alleging that he was shot after he grew suspicious and drew a gun on undercover police officers. The report makes no mention of his detention by the officers in the van:

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Investigation conducted disclosed that Intel operatives of this station conducted an anti-illegal drugs operation (buy-bust) operation led by [intelligence officers] against the suspect after police acted as a poseur buyer was to purchase one (1) piece of small heat transparent plastic sachet containing [shabu]. The suspect who seeing the poseur buyer is a police officer armed with a [.38 caliber handgun] suddenly opened fired to the intel operatives forcing them to returned fire wherein the former was hit during exchange of fire and sustained gunshot wound on his body.

The police further claimed that the wounded Ronda was taken to the hospital by a police “rescue team” where he was declared dead, and that a .38 caliber handgun with two fired cartridges was found at the scene by SOCO police investigators. 

Read the full HRW report at lag.ph/hrw2017

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