A man who played dead before fleeing the scene of a bloody drug raid conducted by the Quezon City police in 2016 was acquitted of charges that he fought back, or “nanlaban,” an allegation made by the law enforcers when they discovered that he was still alive.
In a decision issued on Friday, a local court cleared Efren Morillo, of Barangay Payatas, in the case of direct assault filed by the Quezon City Police District (QCPD).
A legal advocacy group that helped Morillo challenge the QCPD hailed the decision as “proof that truth will prevail” about the brutal drug war ordered by then President Rodrigo Duterte.
Based on Morillo’s affidavit, a QCPD team conducting an antidrug operation on Aug. 21, 2016, raided a house in Payatas and fired at a group of men, among them Morillo, as they were playing pool. Killed were Anthony Comendo, Jessie Cule, Rhaffy Gabo and Marcelo Daa Jr., the owner of the house.
Morillo, who was hit in the chest, first played dead and then managed to crawl down into a nearby ravine, before fleeing on foot.
Hours later, the same QCPD team learned that Morillo was still alive and found him being treated at East Avenue Medical Center, where he was placed under arrest. The police booked him for direct assault and also alleged that sachets of “shabu” (crystal meth) were found at Daa’s house.
In her decision, Judge Gloria Monica Lopez-Lao of QC Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 133 ruled that the prosecution “failed to establish that all the elements of direct assault were present in the case.”
It thus threw out the allegation made by the QCPD team—composed of Police Officer 3 Allan Formilleza, PO1s James Aggarao and Melchor Navisaga and Insp. Emil Garcia—that an armed Morillo fired at the officers and forced them to shoot back and wound him during the raid.
The court noted that none of the officers actually saw Morillo in the act of shooting. Instead, when cross-examined, Aggarao revealed that it was Formilleza who fired a gun, it added.
The court also cited the negative results of Morillo’s paraffin test. “While law enforcers enjoy the presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties, this presumption cannot prevail over the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent, and it cannot, by itself, constitute proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” Lopez-Lao said in her decision.
“The burden of proof rests upon the prosecution and the accused must then be acquitted and set free should the prosecution not overcome the presumption of innocence in his favor,” the judge added.
Allowed to post bail, Morillo later accused the police officers of murder, frustrated murder, robbery and “planting” of evidence in a countecomplaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, where the matter remained pending.
In October 2017, he also secured a protection order, via the writ of amparo, from the Supreme Court against police harassment in his community.
“With the victims’ families steadfast and relentless in pursuit of justice, Mr. Morillo—the one who lived—continues his call for accountability against his perpetrators and other perpetrators of the drug war,” the Center for International Law Philippines, a group that provided legal aid to Morillo, said in a statement on Friday.