A 27-year-old suspected drug peddler was peppered with bullets shortly after he shot and wounded an undercover policeman during a drug bust in Barangay South Poblacion of San Fernando town in southern Cebu on Sunday evening.
Benjamin Acero Jr., a newly identified drug suspect in the municipality, died of 13 gunshot wounds on his body. Found in his possession was a small sachet of shabu (crystal meth) valued at P500.
Supt. Reyman Tolentin, spokesperson of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), said Acero allegedly resisted arrest, grappled for the service firearm of PO2 Aristeo Tampus, and shot the latter on the left arm.
Although he was wounded, Tampus managed to chase Acero and shot him several times, leaving the suspect lying in a pool of blood in an alley about 200 meters from his residence.
Tolentin said the operation was legal and Tampus was left with no choice but to neutralize the drug suspect.
“That’s the nature of a police work. At any given time, you have to defend yourself and use necessary force to repel, control, or abolish the threat,” he told reporters in an interview on Monday.
Acero was the first casualty in Cebu in the government’s war on drugs in Cebu since the resumption of Oplan Tokhang last January 29.
Tolentin said Tampus, who is recuperating at the South General Hospital, would not face any investigation since the arm confrontation between the police officer and Acero was legal.
Instead, Tampus will be given an award for his bravery as soon as Chief Supt. Robert Quenery, PRO-7 director, will return from Manila.
“Financial assistance may come, but for now what is sure is that he (Tampus) will be receiving an administrative award for what he did,” Tolentin said.
Rhea Acero-Quevedo, the victim’s elder sister, denounced the manner with which Acero was neutralized by the police.
“Overkill man na ang ila. Usa o duha ka tira, patay naman na. Grabe, wala silay patawad. Gitiil na lang unta. Imagine, upat sila ka polis while usa ra ang akong manghud. Then, trese pa ka bala ang ilang gibuhian? Patay gyud,” she told Cebu Daily News.
(What they did was an overkill. One or two shots would have been enough to kill a person. What the police did was too much. They should have shot my brother on the foot. Imagine, there were four policemen, and my brother was alone. And then they fired 13 shots at my brother? Of course, he would die).
Despite the pain of losing a loved one, Quevedo, 29, said they have no plans yet of filing a complaint against Tampus and the three other policemen who conducted the drug bust against Acero.
“Wala man mi kalaban-laban. Polis man ang among kontra. Pwede nila baliktaron ang nahitabo. Mapildi lang mi. Igo na lang mi sa paghilak. (We are not a match to the police. They can reverse the facts. We will just be defeated. We just have to be contended in crying),” she said.
Quevedo admitted that Acero, the youngest of five siblings, had been using illegal drugs since the latter was 15 years old.
She said her brother, who remained single, underwent drug rehabilitation in a facility in Argao town, 66.9 kilometers south of Cebu City, for seven months in 2013. But when he was discharged from the facility, he continued using the prohibited substance.
In July 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte’s relentless war on drugs started, Quevedo said her brother lied low and opted to stay at home most of the time.
“Pag-uso sa Tokhang, gitambagan namo siya nga mo undang. Ana siya nga ‘magbag-o nako.’ Dili na gani na halos mogawas sa balay. Apan sa dihang nimingaw na ang Tokhang, nadani na pud na siya sa barkada. (At the height of Oplan Tokhang, we advised him to stop using illegal drugs. He said he was going to change his ways. At that time, he hardly went out of the house. But when Tokhang died down, he was again enticed by his friends),” she said.
While Acero was a drug user, Quevedo stressed that her brother was never into peddling shabu.
She said Acero left home to attend the wake of a friend about a 100 meters from their house.
At past 10 p.m. on Sunday, Quevedo said witnesses saw the policemen arrive in the area and fire a warning shot.
People at the wake subsequently scampered, but Acero reportedly grappled for the gun of Tampus.
But the police had a different version of the story.
They said Acero transacted with Tampus for the delivery of a sachet of shabu in exchange for P500. The suspect did not know that he was dealing with an undercover policeman.
When the transaction was completed, Tampus tried to arrest Acero.
But Acero, who studied criminology for a year before he stopped schooling, allegedly grabbed the Glock 9 mm service firearm of Tampus and shot the policeman, hit him on the left arm.
Tampus, however, went after Acero and took his gun back. A chase then ensued, resulting to the policeman repeatedly shooting Acero.
One of the bullets pierced through the wooden wall of a house near the place where Acero was killed.
House owner Reil Armamento said he and his wife were about to sleep when they heard bursts of gunfire.
“Wala dayon mi nangawas kay nahadlok mi. (We did not immediately go out of our house because we were terrified),” he said.
Armamento said they later found out that one of the bullets hit their cabinet.
“Maayo na lang tawn wala mi naigo. (We were fortunate that no one was hit),” he said.
PO2 Edgar Enclonar, desk officer of the San Fernando Police Station, said Tampus might have fired several shots at Acero out of anger.
“Naglagot gyud tingali to siya kay naigo gud siya. (Tampus must be very mad at the suspect because he was hit),” he said.
Enclonar said Tampus also had to make sure to neutralize the suspect, as the latter bigger and taller than the police officer.
“Dako kaayo nga tawo ang suspect ikomparar sa among kauban nga nipis kaayo, (The suspect was big compared to our colleague who is quite lean),” he said.
Tampus and the three other policemen who took part in the operation that killed Acero underwent a paraffin test on Monday to determine whether or not they fired a gun.
Based on the investigation, all 13 bullets that hit Acero came from the service firearm of Tampus.
Tolentin said they also have to come up with an incident report, which is a requirement whenever policemen kill drug suspects, but he maintained that the operation was legal.
“The suspect resisted the arrest and placed the life of a policeman in danger. It is but proper for PO2 Tampus to defend and save himself. What happened was actually a case of self-defense, not an extrajudicial killing. It was a product of a legitimate operation, and so we stand by our actions,” Tolentin explained.
“Just imagine if PO2 Tampus was not able to regain his bearings, he should have been dead now. He was just luck that the bullet did not hit any of his vital organs otherwise he’s gone,” he added.
Based on the report of PRO-7, a total of 461 anti-drug operations resulted in the arrest of 752 individuals from different parts of Central Visayas from Dec. 5, 2017 to Feb. 4, 2018.
Of the number, 328 were suspected drug pushers while the rest were allegedly involved in selling the prohibited substance.
Two suspected drug pushers were killed in Negros Oriental, while Acero is the first casualty in Cebu in 2018.
Tolentin called on other drug pushers and users to stop their illegal operations otherwise they would be arrested, or worse killed, if they resisted arrest.
“If you don’t intend to stop, time will come that the long arms of the law will catch up with you. I just hope and pray that when we conduct an operation against you, you will not resist arrest or put the lives of our policemen in danger,” he said.
“We’re hoping that it will all be smooth, but we cannot assure that there will be no casualties in the long run because we policemen also have to defend ourselves. My advice for drug users and pushers is to stop what they are doing,” he added.