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Three Filipino police were found guilty of murdering a teenager during a drug transfer – the first conviction of officers in the deadly war of President Rodrigo Duterte against drugs.
Judge Roldolfo Azucena said on Thursday that the murder of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos was "not a law enforcement function" and sentenced any officer to 40 years in prison.
Duterte launched his War on Drugs in 2016, promising a campaign to kill every drug consumer and trader in the country to fight widespread drug abuse.
The Philippine head of state has been criticized by international human rights groups for considering that extra-judicial killings carried out by police and vigilantes have been sanctioned, killing at least 12,000 people. Human Rights Watch has described Duterte's reign as a "human rights violation."
Santos was shot dead by policemen in a humid Manila alley in August 2017.
The police reported for the first time that the teenage girl who claimed she was a drug runner, drew a gun and fired, and they returned the fire for self-defense. The official police photo of the crime scene showed a gun and packet of methamphetamine next to Santos' body – two bullets in his head – to substantiate his claim, his uncle Randy Delos Santos said in 2017 to NPR.
The allegation of the victim's alleged drug use is being used thousands of times since 2016 – but this time the Neighborhood Watch recordings told a different story. The video showed the three policemen dragging the teenager into an alley a few minutes before he was found dead.
If the camera had not been there, the teenager would have been just another statistic in the fight against drugs, his uncle told NPR.
"A shot at first, think later attitude can never be advocated in a civilized society," said the judge on Thursday.
Santo's death triggered an outcry across the country. The case "awoke people," said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan near Manila to NPR in 2017. The teenager was in one of David's communities.
"When I learned of the death of this boy, I asked the pastor to accompany me to the house, and it is a house in the slums, and they asked me to celebrate Mass," David said. "There was no room at all in the house, so we had to have a mass in the street and the streets were full of people."
Human Rights Watch called the court's ruling a "triumph of justice and accountability" and a warning to members of the Philippine National Police Process and the rights of civilians in their work, "reports Philippine Star .
But the group is cautious – Duterte has said he will sentence pardoned officers in his drug war.
"There is reason to believe he will keep that promise," said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW Stern.
Philippine Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra said the belief "exposes the myth" that there is a culture of impunity in the country's drug war, Inquirer reported.  "A conviction" from thousands of murders "hardly exposes anything," answered HRW researcher Carlos H. Conde on Twitter .
"On the contrary, this unt It states how disrupted our legal system is and that much more needs to be done for justice and accountability, "he wrote.