Manila, Philippines – Bladen Skyler Abatayo had wanted to become a priest when he grew up.
But the 4-year-old boy’s dreams perished when he was hit by a stray bullet inside his room around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10.
The bullet that pierced his heart came from a gun used during a police antidrug operation near the boy’s house at Sitio Bato in Barangay Ermita, Cebu City.
Skyler, who was enrolled in nursery at a university in this city’s downtown area, had just finished his homework and was practicing to write his name when the bullet snuffed out his life.
“I had asked him to practice writing down his name. Yesterday was the first time he had written down his full name. I was very happy, but I did not know that [that day] was also his last,” said Skyler’s father, Marc Anthony, holding back tears.
According to Marc Anthony, he left the child with his wife, Gwynn, around 12 noon to buy spare parts for his motorcycle.
Checking a pot session
“Had I known that this would happen, I would have brought him with me despite the weather. I deeply regret not doing so,” he said.
Senior Insp. John Kareen Escober, chief of the Carbon Police Station, said four of his men went to Sitio Bato on Tuesday afternoon to verify a report that a group of men was allegedly having a pot session in an abandoned house adjacent to the Abatayos’ home.
Escober said that when the policemen arrived at the abandoned house, they saw four men, two of them armed, having a pot session on the second floor.
When one of the surprised men drew his weapon, a policeman jumped at him and the two grappled for the gun, he said.
Escober said the bullet that killed the child came from the gun of the suspect, adding that not one of his men fired his service firearm.
The suspects escaped and the policemen failed to give chase, he said, without elaborating.
But the Abatayos’ neighbors who were around during the shooting dismissed the policemen’s claim and said that no drug bust or chase happened.
“If it were true that the policemen and the suspects were grappling for the firearm, there should have been a commotion in the area. But there was none. It was very peaceful. What we saw was a policeman running behind Gwynn as she carried her blood-drenched child,” said a resident who sold banana cue near the Abatayos’ house.
A footage from Barangay Ermita’s closed-circuit television (CCTV) unit near the scene of the crime showed a policeman in civilian clothes carrying the child.
The neighbors believed that the policeman’s gun accidentally fired when he slipped and fell in the abandoned house.
A hole on the wooden wall of the room—left by the bullet that hit Skyler in the chest—was found about a foot from the floor of the second level of the house.
Enraged residents of Sitio Bato are demanding justice for Skyler’s senseless death.
On Wednesday, when the child’s coffin arrived in their sitio at 2 a.m., the residents lit candles on the road leading to the family’s home and chanted “hustisya” (justice) in unison.
They also initiated a signature campaign to urge the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) to investigate the incident.
In their petition, the residents pointed out that the police also needed to ensure public safety during the conduct of peace-and-order operations.
A team of CHR-7 investigators submitted its initial report on Skyler’s death to the central office in Manila on Thursday.
“There were significant and material inconsistencies found by the probe team based on the public statements released by the police and the statements released by the witnesses. We will look into this during the formal hearing, which the CHR will set soon,” said lawyer Arvin Odron, director of CHR Central Visayas.
Members of the CHR Quick Reaction Team visited Sitio Bato on Wednesday and conducted forensic examination of the scene of the crime.
4 cops relieved
Odron said they would also subpoena Escober’s four men, all operatives of the Cebu City Police Station 5’s drug enforcement unit, to shed light on the shooting.
Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde had already ordered the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) to relieve the four policemen.
Albayalde also assured Skyler’s family that “an impartial investigation by the PNP Internal Affairs Service is now being conducted in order to get to the bottom of this unfortunate incident.”
Although the four policemen tested negative for powder burns during a paraffin test, Albayalde said they were not yet off the hook.
Skyler’s mom Gwynn said she was not contented that the policemen had been relieved. The police, she said, should tell them what really happened.
Pa now tagged
The Abatayo couple also raised concern for their safety after Police Station 5 in Carbon belatedly tagged Marc Anthony as a drug personality.
Police said Marc Anthony was actually one of the four men who were having a pot session in the abandoned house raided by the policemen.
Marc Anthony said he feared that the police would use the allegations against him to force them to stop pursuing the case against his son’s killer.
“I’m afraid that they would use this drug allegation to eliminate me and make it appear that my son is the collateral damage for my wrongdoings,” Marc Anthony told Cebu Daily News on Friday.
“We only asked for justice for my son. Why do they have to make up stories about me?” he said.
NBI steps in
Marc Anthony insisted that he was neither a drug user nor a pusher despite residing in an area that police consider as a drop-off point for drugs. He said the barangay’s CCTV footage would prove that he was not in the area when the shooting occurred.
The footage showed that Marc Anthony left their house in his motorcycle at 12:15 p.m. Another footage showed him driving toward Panganiban Street in the barangay at 12:19 p.m.
Wary of the efforts of the city police to investigate the shooting, the Abatayo couple have already asked the National Bureau of Investigation to handle the case.
NBI agents visited the scene of the crime on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning to interview the neighbors and review the CCTV footage.