CHR Commissioner: Two suspects in Argoncillo case may be 'fall guys'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 25) — The two suspects pegged in the beating and death of detainee Genesis "Tisoy" Argoncillo may just be fall guys, Human Rights Commissioner Roberto Cadiz said on Monday.

"Yung medyo duda ako ng kunti, pero dapat lumabas sa investigation, is kung fall guy sila. That's very possible," Cadiz told CNN Philippines' The Source.

[Translation: What I am wondering, which should come out in the investigation, is if they are fall guys.]

22-year-old Argoncillo grabbed headlines when he died in detention last week. His body bore multiple bruises.

Argoncillo was one of thousands of suspects arrested in light of President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial order to clear the streets of loiterers. Police said Argoncillo was arrested for "alarm and scandal," but his family and witnesses maintained he was only watching a video in front of a store.

The Commission on Human Rights will release the result of its investigation on the issue in the next few weeks.

Murder charges were filed against two initial suspects, Richard Bautista and Justin Mercado, both alleged members of a jail  gang called "Sputnik." Quezon City Police are expecting more suspects to be charged.

Cadiz said that whether or not Bautista and Mercado were really part of those who beat Argoncillo, it was likely there were more who were involved.

"Obviously there were more than just two," he said. "Hindi natin alam kung papaano nagdedesisyon ang Sputnik Gang, kung sino ang tatayo para umamin sa krimen."

[Translation: We don't know how the Sputnik Gang decides on who stands in and admits to the crime.]

The commissioner said although he doubted police were involved in the actual beating, he did not believe they did not know about it beforehand. He also emphasized the police are still accountable for what happened to Argoncillo.

"Whether or not the police themselves were joined in the [beating], they are definitely liable because this happened under their watch," said Cadiz. "Nobody will believe the police na hindi nila alam ang nangyayari [if they say they don't know what happened]."

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said it was likely he was beaten up by other detainees, but police could also have been involved.

"Lalo pa yung kuwento... lakad siya ng lakad, dami niyang naapakan, talagang magrereact sa kanya," Panelo told The Source. "But I do not discount the possibility na may kasama ring nasaktan siya ng police."

[Translation: The story was... he would walk and walk, and step on others (in the cell), so other people would really react to him. But I do not discount the possibility that police could have hurt him too.]

However, Panelo maintained, "This administration will not allow, tolerate any abuse on the part of the police."

The recent spate of arrests — about 11,000 since June 13 — is only one of the human rights concerns raised under Duterte's term. Vagrancy is not a crime under Philippine law, but police argue that they are following local ordinances against loitering.

Duterte is also infamous for his bloody war on drugs, which has seen about 4,000 deaths in police operations. However, human rights watchdogs peg more than 13,000 deaths, including those from vigilante-style killings.