It's easy to not ever know the stories of most of the victims of Duterte’s fake drug war because of the high body count. For every Kian de los Santos whose image and last words are embedded into our collective memory, there are thousands more who bled away into the edges of national consciousness, barely meriting a headline, remaining faceless to most of us.
John Jezreel David was only a few years older than Kian when he too was targeted by policemen on the prowl for helpless victims to prey on. At 9.00 a.m. on 19 January 2017, Jhay finished his shift as a room boy in a Pasay hotel. He was supposed to have arrived home in Tondo by lunchtime, but he never made it home.
It would take over two days for Jhay’s father Denisse and his stepmother Katherine to track him down. They only found him after their local barangay (village) officials told them that a man matching Jhay’s description had been taken to Manila Police Station 11 as he was apparently on the list of drug pushers in the area, even though their barangay was under the jurisdiction of Police Station 1. When they got to the police station, they were directed to a funeral parlour.
Jhay’s parents didn’t recognise him at first–he had five gunshot wounds and there were bruises, scratches and cuts all over his body. The autopsy report that they requested showed that Jhay had been tortured before he was shot dead.
The police claimed that Jhay was the subject of a buy-bust operation, along with two other men who were also shot dead. One of them, Kim Ocenar, was Jhay’s colleague. The other, George Yap, was completely unknown to Jhay and Kim.
The policemen involved used the trite nanlaban lie to justify the deaths of the three men–the cops were forced to shoot them because they resisted arrest and tried to shoot the cops first. All lies, of course, as proven by witnesses that Denisse and Katherine spoke to.
The police claimed that Jhay, Kim and George died on the 21st of January. CCTV footage from Jose Abad General Hospital at 11.23 p.m. on the 20th of January showed a tricycle (motorised trike) arriving at the hospital entrance, with Kim’s and George’s bodies unceremoniously piled up inside,followed by a couple of policemen riding on Jhay’s motorbike. Behind them was another tricycle carrying Jhay’s body.
The police claimed that they rushed the men to the hospital because they were still breathing, but as the footage showed, there was no urgency on the part of the hospital staff to attend to the men. The doctor in charge said this is because they knew that the three victims were already dead.
This is the story that Denisse and Katherine were able to patch together:
At 10 a.m. on the 19th of January, Jhay was accosted by a group of policemen as he passed their checkpoint on Jones Bridge in Binondo. Jhay had previously told a friend that he had been stopped a few times at this checkpoint and would always be told to cough up some money. On this day though, the cops clearly had something else in mind. They decided to detain him, Kim and George instead, taking the men’s motorbikes with them. According to witnesses, the cops kept taunting the three as they were made to sit and wait by the road.
The next time Jhay, Kim and George were seen in public, they were being taken on motorbikes by plainclothes cops to a slum area on the corner of Del Pan and Lara streets in Binondo. With their hands tied behind their backs, the men were dragged by the policemen into an abandoned warehouse. This warehouse, according to local residents, was the site of previous police executions.
The cops ordered people near the warehouse off the street so there would be no witnesses, but a few of them reported hearing Jhay, Kim and George crying and pleading with the cops. At one point, one of them allegedly cried, ‘Sir, please just kill us, stop torturing us.’
At some point in the evening, the locals heard several gunshots. Half an hour later, the cops got the two tricycle drivers to take their victims to the hospital, clearly specifying to them that they’d be taking dead bodies.
In February 2017, the police station filed charges against Jhay, Kim and George. Imagine the audacity of prosecuting three dead men just so their names could be smeared and their murders justified. The charges were dismissed by the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila the following month.
In September 2017, Denisse filed murder complaints against PO3 Joel Pelayo, PO3 Ponciano Barnedo, PO2 Osmond Pring, PO2 Eduardo Lacson and their leader Police Chief Inspector (PCI) Leandro Gutierrez at the Office of the Ombudsman.
In the days that followed, Denisse and Katherine would be hounded by Gutierrez and his men. Gutierrez initially offered them money, and when they refused his offer, started threatening them.
‘They wouldn’t even return Jhay’s motorbike,’ Katherine lamented when I met her in 2019 during the European tour of Tao Po, Mae Paner’s one-woman play about the fake drug war. ‘That was the only thing that he ever treated himself to. He saved up for it to make it easier for him to commute to work. Who could have known that it would serve as a magnet to those cops?’
The threats and harassment eventually forced the David family to move to Bulacan. They remain active in their pursuit of justice for Jhay and the other victims of Duterte’s fake drug war. Their fight against the lies made up by Jhay’s murderers about him continues as they keep alive the memory of who he really was.
Like most of the victims of this made-up war on drugs, Jhay was simply a hardworking young man who helped his parents put his younger siblings through school. Like most people his age, he was into online gaming. He also dabbled in graphic design. At his funeral, his family and friends wore shirts that bore the last logo that he designed.
The case drags on, with no arrests made. As of October 2022, Gutierrez remained in a high-profile post, having been transferred to and promoted to commander of Manila Police Station 5. Jhay’s case is included in the list of cases that the International Criminal Court is investigating.
Jhay was 21.