Justice Secretary: Minors killed in drug war ‘collateral damage’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 24) — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said Thursday minors killed in police operations were collateral damage.

“Tungkol po doon sa sinasabi nilang may 31 minors or children killed, ‘yun po, this is (sic) collateral damage. Hindi po ‘yan sinadya ng mga pulis katulad ng pinahahayag ng mga evidence dito sa Kian killing,” Aguirre said during the Senate inquiry on the death of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

[Translation: Regarding what they said about 31 minors killed, this is collateral damage. The police did not mean that, like what evidence shows here in Kian’s case.]

Aguirre said nothing happened to the 517 minors apprehended by police in anti-drug raids, and that Kian’s slay was an “isolated case” recorded on security video and seen by witnesses.

The Justice Secretary reiterated Kian’s death was “blown out of proportion.”

Sen. Franklin Drilon called Aguirre out, saying his statement can be perceived as favoring the police who are under investigation.

“Your bias to protect the policemen is so obvious. I do not see any indication that you are trying to seek a neutral path here,” Drilon told Aguirre.

Drilon then asked Aguirre if he would agree to allow the Ombudsman to do preliminary investigation into Kian’s case, but Aguirre disagreed, saying it will put the Justice Department in bad light.

The Senate is investigating the death of Kian, one of 82 casualties in various anti-drug operations by the police last week in Bulacan and Metro Manila.

READ: What we know so far about Kian's death

Inconsistencies in police accounts

Autopsy results from the Public Attorney's’ Office forensic laboratory showed Kian had three gunshot wounds fired at close range: two behind his left ear, and one on his back.

However, reports from the Philippine National Police (PNP) crime laboratory said only two gunshot wounds were seen behind the ear, fired about two feet away from Kian.

No one claimed custody of Kian's shirt, which could help determine if the third gunshot wound exists.

One of the police involved in the incident, Police Officer 1 Jeremias Pereda, said Kian shot at them. Previous police reports said Kian fired a gun using his left hand, but Sen. Grace Poe refuted the claim, as the family said the boy was right-handed.

Both the Senate panel and the police agreed that Pereda, PO1 Jerwin Cruz, and PO3 Arnel Oares were in the anti-drug operation, adding that Oares’ gun matched the slug found near Kian’s body.

When asked who fired the gun, the policemen refused to speak without a personal lawyer.

“This kind of (sic) demeanor will affect somehow, sabihin na natin ‘yung pananaw namin sa inyong tatlo [our impression of you three],” Sen. Panfilo Lacson told the police.

READ: Police admit Kian’s drug links confirmed via social media

Was Kian a drug dealer?

During Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s questioning, former Northern Police District chief Roberto Fajardo told the Senate panel they only knew of Kian’s involvement in drugs after the anti-drug operations.

Relieved Caloocan police chief Chito Bersaluna said the links were confirmed by a certain“Nono,” who volunteered the information. He added some reports on social media support "Nono’"s claims.

READ: New witness says he got drugs from Kian

Drilon then said, “The issue here is whether there was an extrajudicial killing, whether Kian was killed by the three policemen here facing us. It (drug link) is not the issue, even assuming it is true that Kian is a drug dealer. That’s beside the point.”

Witnesses under custody

Aguirre argued witnesses to the case should be under the Justice Department’s Witness Protection Program.

“If these witnesses, especially they are children, two of them 13 and 16, are put under the custody of an individual, especially if this individual’s fairness is in question, so the credibility of these witnesses is bound to go down because we could never avoid the suspicion that they may have been brainwashed,” Aguirre said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros previously took three witnesses under her protective custody, as she had reservations with the Justice Department’s impartiality.

Hontiveros also requested for a closed-door meeting for the witnesses because of security threats.

The Senate has taken custody of the witnesses Thursday, until they testify in a closed-door session on August 29.

CNN Philippines' Correspondents Cecille Lardizabal and Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.