MANILA (Reuters) - A court in the Philippines ordered the arrest on Wednesday of three policemen for the high-profile August 2017 killing of a teenager, the first murder case in a brutal war on drugs that has killed thousands of Filipinos.
The Caloocan City regional trial court in Manila issued an arrest order following the recent filing of murder charges by state prosecutors over the death of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, a student described in a police report after his death as a drug courier.
"We will comply with the arrest order," said John Bulalacao, national police spokesman, adding the three policemen once arrested would be transferred to a jail.
They are currently on restricted duty having been reassigned to the regional headquarters south of Manila in the wake of the teenager's murder. His death caused outrage over a bloody drugs crackdown that is largely supported by Filipinos, but condemned by the international community.
The three policemen were also charged with planting drugs and a handgun on delos Santos, who according to police experts, was shot dead while on his knees in a dark alley. His family and friends insist he had no involvement in drugs.
As in nearly 4,000 killings of drug suspects by police as part of the 19-month-old crackdown, the official report said delos Santos was killed because he violently resisted arrest, endangering officers' lives.
But human rights groups and activists dismiss that as implausible and accuse police of systematic executions and cover-ups that President Rodrigo Duterte not only refuses to investigate, but tacitly supports.
Duterte and the police have repeatedly rejected that and say there is no evidence to support such allegations.
Delos Santos' death sparked a big protest and led to Duterte briefly suspending police operations in October.
Two months later, however, he ordered police to resume raids and sting operations. Some 46 deaths have been reported in a two-month period ending Feb. 5, based on official reports.
Duterte has frequently praised police who kill drug dealers and promised to pardon any officers who are jailed. However, he has lambasted the men accused of killing the teenager and promised his family justice.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Michael Perry)