THE father of five child witnesses in the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd de los Santos has appealed to those who have custody of the children to release them.
Roy Concepcion, father of the 13-year-old witness who was initially taken under the protective custody of Sen. Risa Hontiveros, was accompanied by lawyers of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) at the Senate on Thursday.
Apart from his 13-year-old child, four of his children were also placed under the custody of the opposition senator.
Concepcion was recently released from jail on drug-related charges and was not around when his children were taken into custody.
Jacinto Paras, legal counsel of the VACC, said in an interview they went to the office of Hontiveros because they were informed that Concepcion’s children were with her.
“We were informed by [Senate Sergeant at Arms Jose Balajadia] that the best person to ask is Senator Hontiveros or her office. And it turns out now that they are in the custody of Bishop [Pablo] Virgilio David of Caloocan City,” Paras said.
Paras noted that under the law, the father has custody of the children. Concepcion sought the assistance of the VACC for the return of his five children.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, also of the VACC, said some protocols on the handling of custody might have not been followed because the witnesses were suddenly turned over to the Catholic bishop.
“Why not the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development)? Why did they suddenly transfer them to the bishop?” Topacio asked.
He noted the father was just released from jail and wanted to make up for lost time with his children.
The mother of the children is working in the Middle East.
Hontiveros’ office said the Caloocan diocese took custody upon the request of the witnesses and their families, including the family of Kian de los Santos, to protect them from threats.
Jaye de la Cruz-Bekema, Hontiveros’ legal officer, said the parents and guardians of the witnesses signed consent forms entrusting them to the care of the Senate.
Bekema however said the Senate ended its custody on September 5, after the witnesses gave their respective testimonies to the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs.
If the families of the witnesses under custody of the diocese believe they will be able to ensure the safety of their children, Hontiveros will respect their prerogatives, she said.
“What we don’t understand is why PAO (Public Attorney’s Office), and VACC keep on raising the issue of custody when this is already settled. If PAO wants to get the testimonies of the witnesses, they are free to do so,” the lawyer added.
She added the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Ombudsman have obtained the witnesses’ testimonies.
“We hope the custody and protection of some of the witnesses are not being used to muddle the search for truth and justice in the Kian killing,” she added.
Kian, who was in Grade 12 in a Catholic senior high school on the government’s voucher program, was killed following a drug raid in Caloocan City on the evening of August 16. His father Saldy said Kian was only closing the family-run store for the night.
Kian was found face down in a dark corner of Barangay 160, and forensics experts have concluded he was shot in the back, while kneeling, with a bullet that had a downward trajectory. He also had two gunshot wounds in the head.
Police claimed Kian fired at them, but several witnesses said the teenager was given a gun and told to run.
Later, police claimed that while Kian was not on the list of drug suspects, intelligence information —later revealed to have come from social media—pointed to the teen as a drug “courier.”
President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to bring Kian’s killers to justice, saying he would not tolerate police abuses in his drug war.