RTC judges seek dialogue with police on drug killings

By Bicol Mail News Team


Judges of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Naga City are seeking an “executive session-type” or closed-door “special dialogue” with top officials of the Naga City Police Office (NCPO) and the Naga City government to address what appears to be a recent spate of police “nanlaban” killings in the course of drug buy-bust operations and even search warrant implementation, to avoid any unnecessary use of lethal force and possible collateral damages.


The judges’ action was spurred by the Feb. 26, 2021 early morning killing of Dino Dañas, a former RTC Naga court employee, brother of Branch 28 Clerk of Court Atty. Roy Dañas, private practitioner Atty. Rosalie Dañas-Mecate, and son of the late fiscal and then Judge Romeo Dañas. The victim was killed by police operatives in the course of a search warrant implementation for dangerous drugs possession at the Dañas ancestral home compound in the populous Greenland Ave., Concepcion Pequeña, Naga City.


The Dañas incident is not the only police “nanlaban” killing incident in Naga City in recent times. A few years back, there was a similar incident involving a son of the late veteran Camarines Sur lawyer, politician and peryodista Atty. Gualberto Manlagñit.


In fact, the Naga City Dangerous Drugs Board (NCDDB) has reported among others that nine of the 2,408 Persons Who Use Drugs (PWUDs) subject of its Community-Based Drug Rehabilitation (CBDR) program had gotten killed in drug law enforcement operations as of


2020, based on information from the NCPO.


There is a sense among some judges as well as elective city, congressional and national officials that any unnecessary killings in the course of drug law enforcement is not attune to the vision of the city, declared both as a Peace Zone in 1992 during the time of its long-time renowned Mayor Jesse Robredo and as a Justice Zone in 2019 during the current term of incumbent Mayor Nelson Legacion.


According to reliable RTC Naga sources, the special dialogue was initially suggested by Judge Soliman Santos Jr. of Branch 61 last Mar. 8 and was well taken by Executive Judge Erwin Virgilio Ferrer who initially believed that this could be properly addressed in a meeting of the Naga City Justice Zone.


Subsequently, on Mar. 22, Ferrer designated Santos to represent him at the NCDDB meeting last Mar. 23. Santos did so at the meeting with NCPO Community Affairs Unit head P/Lt. Col. Salvador Ortañez Jr.(in lieu of NCPO Director P/Col. Marlon Catan) and Naga City Public Safety Office head Renne Gumba (in lieu of Mayor Legacion).


Both Ortañez and Gumba were amenable to the proposed special dialogue and the understanding with Santos was for a formal invitation letter to be sent to Catan and Legacion for the dialogue to be held sometime after the Holy Week.


Police officials expected to attend the meeting from the NCPO side, aside from Catan, would be its: deputy director for Operations; Intelligence Unit head; Drug Enforcement Unit (CDEU) head; the NCPO’s six station chiefs; and the team leader of the Naga-based Regional Police Drug Enforcement Unit (RPDEU).


From the Naga City government, aside from Legacion, would be Vice-Mayor Cecilia de Asis who is also co-chair of the Naga City Dangerous Drugs Board (NCDDB) and Gumba.


An executive session-type or closed-door meeting is envisioned to encourage a candid and free-flowing exchange of views while safeguarding any sensitive or confidential information.


The Dañas Incident


Bicol Mail sources said that some judges believed that the Dañas killing could and should have been avoided, given that what was involved was a normally less risky search warrant implementation rather than a buy-bust operation, that there appears to have been an overwhelming police force employed sufficient to capture him alive, and that there was a significant number of persons and residents around the scene of the alleged armed confrontation who were potential “collateral damage” victims.


These persons and residents included other Dañas family members in their compound, as well as at least 20 persons who were chanced upon by the raiding team, while engaged in a small-time illegal gambling activity of “Cara y Cruz” in the sala of the separate three-room small house unit of suspect Dino Dañas, who was asleep in his room at around past two in the early morning of Feb. 26.

According to the NCPO blotter entry on the Dañas incident, the operating units were the CDEU led by P/Lt. Charles Emerson Oamil, the City Intelligence Unit, the RPDEU led by P/Maj. Aldin Orquita, 501st Regional Mobile Force Battalion (RMFB), Intelligence of the City Mobile Force Company (CMFC) and the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), in coordination with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) regional office, and under the overall supervision of the NCPO chief.


The police composite team was implementing a search warrant issued by Executive Judge Ferrer issued on Feb. 18, 2021 against suspect Dino Dañas at his residence in Zone 3, Greenland Ave., Concepcion Pequeña, Naga City for possession of an undetermined sizeable quantity of “shabu” and drug paraphernalia.


The police blotter stated that upon noticing the arrival of the operating team, the suspect Dino Dañas ran towards a room inside his house and took a .38 cal. revolver and fired towards the team. Hence, the team returned fire to repel the danger posed by the suspect, resulting in an armed confrontation. Suspect sustained gunshot wounds and was given immediate medical assistance.


During the search, the team discovered two pieces of heat-sealed transparent sachets containing suspected “shabu,” and one piece fragmentation grenade in plain view on top of the table. The crime scene was processed by the PNP Camarines Sur Provincial Crime Laboratory Office (CSPCLO). The suspect was pronounced dead on arrival by attending physician Dr. Sheila Marie Sarcia of the Naga City Hospital at around 6:35 AM.


In another NCPO blotter entry immediately following the first one, the operating team, while implementing the search warrant, caught 11 persons in the act of illegal gambling known as “Cara y Cruz.” Recovered from their possession was bet money amounting to P216.00 and one piece heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing suspected “shabu,” which were placed on top of a table. The 11 persons were arrested and booked, although three of them who tested positive for Covid-19 per a rapid antigen test were brought to a quarantine facility.

NO GUN Photo of the body of Dino Dañas taken after the alleged shootout with the policemen (photo by Tex Agor)

WITH GUN Another photo of Dino Dañas with the revolver he allegedly fired, which prompted the policemen to fire back killing him in the process.


Unnecessary Overkill?


According to Dañas family sources who included eyewitnesses, Dino Dañas was roused from his sleep by the commotion resulting from the raiding team’s entry into his house. The team found the 20 or so illegal gamblers playing “Cara y Cruz” in the sala, some of whom were able to scamper away, leaving only the 11 who were subsequently arrested.


When the policemen were rounding them up, they asked who was Dino Dañas among them. Dino then identified himself, was accosted by the team and was separated by the team from the group of 11 illegal gamblers. This group was made to lie prone mostly on the ground, and in that position could not see anything happening above them.


Eyewitnesses said they did not hear any reading of the search warrant. At some point, Dino was brought by some team members into the middle room (not his bedroom which was to the left of it) and it was here that he was shot to death at close range, without any shootout between him and the team.


Quite tellingly, there is a photo by mediaman Tex Agor of dwKM-FM who was imbedded in the team, showing the fallen Dino on the middle room floor without any gun in sight, and another photo by the Scene of the Crime Operations (SOCO) showing the fallen Dino in the same position but this time with a revolver near his legs while a SOCO operative was placing some position markers around his body.


It appears that Dino Dañas died on the spot after being shot several times by some raiding team members inside the middle room of his house. The SOCO photo would tend to indicate that he was left for a considerable time where he had fallen upon after being shot and still in the same position, thus, contrary to the NCPO blotter entry, was not given immediate medical assistance.


It was only after four hours, or past 6:00 AM that he was brought to the Naga City Hospital but already dead much earlier, closer to 2:00 or even 3:00 AM.


When his brother Atty. Roy Dañas saw his dead body at the morgue, Roy noted and photographed the following eight bullet wounds of Dino, with the blood having already been washed away: one on his left cheek which went through and through to the other side of the head, perhaps the most fatal and close-range wound; three on his upper chest; one on his left shoulder area; one on his left elbow, which went though and through, probably while his arms were raised in surrender or in a protective motion; and one near each of his two knee caps, possibly the first two gunshots to initially demobilize him before finishing him off with the upper chest and head shots.


This case calls to mind the recent report by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on the “drug war’ that the police tended to use “excessive, unreasonable force” and had the “intent to kill” during drug-related operations after investigating nearly 3,300 extra-judicial killings, of which 1,912 were in police operations, in Metro Manila, Central and Southern Luzon from May 2016 to March 2021.


Relevantly, there have also been the recent calls by members of the legal profession and human rights lawyers especially to the Supreme Court for effective measures to prevent search warrants from becoming “death warrants.”


The Dañas family has however decided not to pursue any case on the police killing of Dino. They in fact no longer had an autopsy or medico-legal examination done on his body and instead had it cremated last Feb. 27 the following day after he died. Dino was 46, and left three children ages 23, 20 and 18. He was estranged from his wife.