(UPDATES) FOUR Philippine police officers were found guilty Tuesday of killing a father and son, court officials said, in a rare case in which law enforcement officers were prosecuted for participating in former President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drug war.

The low-ranking officers were all sentenced to 10 years in prison for the shooting of the two victims in a Manila slum during an anti-drug police operation in 2016, Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rowena Alejandria said in her written judgment read out. in court on Tuesday.

“It should be worth noting that the suspects themselves have not denied their presence and participation in the police operation carried out, the same event in which the victims Luis and Gabriel were killed,” Alejandria wrote.

JUSTICE FOUND Mary Ann Domingo (center) and her son hold portraits of her husband and son after four police officers were found guilty of killing them during their trial on June 18, 2024. AFP PHOTO

Luis Bonifacio was 45 and his son Gabriel Bonifacio was 19 when they were killed.

Thousands of drug suspects were killed by police and unknown gunmen in a campaign that became the centerpiece of Duterte’s rule from 2016 to 2022, a crackdown that critics described as state-sponsored extrajudicial killings and is now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Luis Bonifacio’s partner, Mary Ann Domingo, cried on her son’s shoulder as they listened to the verdict on two murder charges, each read out in the cramped courtroom in northern Manila.

She later told reporters that she felt the ruling showed that “justice still exists.”

“I hope that these (convictions) will continue not only for me, but also for the other victims of extrajudicial killings,” she added.

Records showed that the Caloocan police officers, claiming that the victims were resisting arrest, stormed the Bonifacios’ house on September 15, 2016 as part of the government’s “tokhang” operation.

However, Domingo said the police officers stormed into their home and ordered her and her three minor children to leave the house while Luis sat on his knees while Gabriel begged them not to hurt his father.

She then heard gunshots from inside the house.

Hospital records show the father and son were killed by multiple gunshots.

Manila police officers Virgilio Cervantes, Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre and Artemio Saguros, who attended the court hearing in their blue police uniforms, were also ordered to pay P400,000 each in damages to the victims’ heirs.

The convicts were marched out of the courtroom without speaking to reporters.

The family claims that more than a dozen police officers took part in the overnight raid on the slums in northern Manila.

The family insisted the two were not involved in drugs and were unarmed when police opened fire.

The suspects pleaded self-defense, claiming the suspects were armed and shot at them.

But prosecutors went with only the lesser charge of murder against four officers instead of murder, which involves deliberate intent to kill and carries a harsher penalty.

ICC investigation

“We consider this a partial victory because, in all fairness, the case we brought against these police officers was murder and not murder,” said Domingo family attorney Julian Oliva.

Police said more than 6,000 people were killed in the crackdown, but rights groups estimated that tens of thousands of mostly poor men were killed by officers and vigilantes, even without evidence they were linked to drugs.

DAY OF FAREWELL Police officers attend the trial on June 18, 2024, where they were found guilty of murdering a father and son in a rare case in which members of law enforcement were prosecuted for participating in former President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war. AFP PHOTO

Duterte had openly ordered police to shoot dead suspects during anti-drug operations if officers believed their lives were in danger.

Although the crackdown was widely condemned and prompted an international investigation, only five other police officers have been convicted of killing drug suspects.

Three Manila police officers were convicted in 2018 of killing a 17-year-old boy in 2017. Two other narcotics police officers were found guilty last year of separate murders in 2016 and 2017, the latter being the victim of a South Korean businessman.

Lawyers say most families are too afraid to go after their relatives’ killers, or they don’t have the money or time to pursue a case in the country’s creaky legal system.

“It shows how impunity is happening in our country,” Oliva said.

The drug crackdown is being investigated by the ICC, which said in 2021 that it appeared “a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population took place as a result of or in furtherance of a state policy.”

Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC in 2019, limiting the scope of the tribunal’s investigation.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who succeeded Duterte, has refused to cooperate with the ICC investigation and has taken no steps to restore Manila’s membership. He says Manila has a functioning legal system.