Three Philippine police officers accused of killing Spanish surfer surrender

Jeoffrey Maitem
Davao, Philippines
Three Philippine police officers accused of killing Spanish surfer surrender Philippine Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla speaks to reporters at the Department of Justice in Manila, Feb. 7, 2023.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Three Philippine police officers who went into hiding after being implicated in the 2020 killing of a Spanish surfer during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war have voluntarily surrendered, the justice department said Wednesday.

The policemen claimed the Spaniard, Diego Bello Lafuente, pulled a gun on them when they came to arrest him, although a reinvestigation by a justice department panel of prosecutors cast doubt on the police version.

The officers, Capt. Wise Vicente B. Panuelos, Sgt. Ronel Pazo, and Sgt. Nido Boy Cantos, former members of the General Luna town police in Siargao Island in the southern Philippines, surrendered earlier this month, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

“It was on Feb. 9, 2023, that the three (3) policemen submitted themselves and surrendered to the DOJ,” the department said, without providing details about why it took six days to make the announcement.

“We are now able to move forward and try the case and deliver justice in a case that has transcended borders,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told reporters.

“I can’t promise anything except a fair trial. The prosecutor’s decision depends on the evidence,” he said.

Lafuente was a businessman and a surfer although police had dubbed him a “drug lord.” The officers claimed they recovered a pistol and cocaine weighing more than eight grams from him.

Following his death, Lafuente’s family and friends challenged the official account. A statement by the department’s prosecutor general said there were no eyewitnesses and forensic evidence had disproved the shootout claim.

The prosecutor found “there is sufficient ground to charge respondents with murder and planting of evidence,” it said.

15 PH-police-inside.jpg
A surfer walks on a dock in the southern island of Siargao, one of the Philippines’ finest surfing spots, Sept. 23, 2022. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

Drug war deaths

About 8,000 suspected dealers and addicts were killed in Duterte’s drug war, according to police statistics. Rights groups said the figure could be three times higher, noting many others were killed by pro-Duterte vigilantes they suspect were working with police.

Duterte left office in June 2022, and faces the prospect of being investigated by the International Criminal Court over thousands of drug war deaths.

His successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has said he would block ICC prosecutors from coming over to investigate, while promising the drug war under his watch would concentrate on rehabilitating users and going after dealers.

Duterte also withdrew the Philippines from an international treaty that created the ICC and repeatedly argued that he would not allow himself to be subjected to an international trial. 

In November, a court in Manila sentenced a police officer to two life terms for torturing and planting evidence on two teenagers who were later found dead under Duterte’s drug war.

Another court in 2018 found three police officers guilty and sentenced each to up to 40 years in prison without parole for killing a teenager in connection with the government anti-illegal drugs crackdown.

Mark Navales in Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.