While the plaintiffs’ lawyers said the ruling would have no direct bearing on the broader antidrug effort or set a precedent for other cases, activists said it undermined the program’s credibility and could result in more cases challenging it.
“It encourages other victims or families of victims who are similarly situated to use the legal process and start filing cases,” said Arpee Santiago, a lawyer at the Ateneo Human Rights Center in Manila, adding that the case was also an opportunity “to test the strength and integrity” of Philippine courts.
Mr. Santiago said the ruling sends “a clear message that not everyone will take this sitting down.”
The Philippine National Police has not commented publicly on the case, and a spokesman did not return calls seeking comment on Friday. The police officers involved were under instructions not to talk to the news media.
The case comes as the antidrug program has been temporarily suspended after two police officers on the drug force were accused of killing a Korean businessman in a botched kidnapping.
Mr. Duterte has promised that it will resume. Since he began the campaign when he took office last June, at least 3,600 people have been killed and possibly thousands more.
If the police operation last August was unusual in having a survivor, it was typical in many respects, including the poverty of the victims.
It took place at the ramshackle home of the Daa family, three generations crammed together in a patchwork of plastic and plywood perched on a slope overlooking the country’s largest open dump.
The four men who were killed were all garbage collectors and scavengers who eked out a living from the city’s trash.
According to interviews with several members of their families, they ate food that they found in the dump, washing partly eaten meat and then refrying it. They collected metal to sell for scrap.
Maria Belen Daa, 61, the mother of one of the victims, sometimes worked as a maid and a laundrywoman.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, five plainclothes police officers and two women walked up a snaking footpath through tall grass strewn with garbage and animal feces to the Daa home. Mr. Morillo was playing pool with Marcelo Daa and another friend in a shack on one side of the yard. The other two men were resting on hammocks in back.
The police said the women had pointed out Mr. Daa and his friends as drug dealers, but in their official report they said it was a “chance encounter” by policemen on patrol. In media interviews before they were instructed not to speak about the case, the officers said they had caught the men holding a drug session.
The police officers drew their guns and shouted, “Don’t move!” Mr. Morillo said.
According to the police report, Mr. Morillo and his friends pulled guns, shouting, “You will not get us alive!” before shooting at the police. The officers said they responded by shooting the suspects. No police officers were wounded.
According to Mr. Morillo, the men raised their hands and were handcuffed and frisked while the police searched the house. He and his friends had no weapons, he said.
“Visibly annoyed with us” after finding nothing more than a toy gun, the police took two of the men inside and three outside.
“Then the policemen shot the victims, one by one, execution style,” according to the court petition.
Then the officers helped themselves to bottles of soft drinks and crackers from a small shop owned by the Daa family, Ms. Daa said.
“What they did was shameful,” she said. “We only use torn tarps for walls. We have rusted tin roofing. How can we have money from drugs as they alleged? How can they say that my son sold drugs?”
Her son Marcelo, 31, a wiry man with bleached blond hair, had three children, ages 4 to 14. He was not perfect, Ms. Daa said, but he never smoked, drank alcohol or used drugs. Instead, he gave money to family and friends in need whenever he earned extra from scavenging.
Nor did he own a gun, she said, which costs more than what anyone in this poverty-stricken part of town earns in a year, a place where many residents have learned to live with just a meal a day to survive.
“That is why my heart aches,” she said. “Just because we are poor, they think they can step on us.”
Mr. Morillo, who was shot in the chest, eventually made it to a hospital and recovered. He was charged with assaulting a police officer and is out on bail. Through a lawyer, he declined to be interviewed.
He is lying low, the lawyer, Rommel Bagares, said, and was under the protection of the Commission on Human Rights, which has questioned the killings under the Duterte administration.
Mr. Bagares said this was the first such case because other victims had been afraid to challenge the police.
“We have a survivor,” he said. “And he is willing to bear witness to the murders.”
He said the next step was to file murder charges against the police officers. “If the pieces of evidence we have are properly appreciated, we will get indictments,” he said.
There may be other cases as well. Since he filed the case, Mr. Bagares said, he has received queries from other victims. A coalition of seven law firms has been set up to collaborate on them.
After countless deaths, he said, “there has to be a legal challenge to the madness.”
The families of the victims welcomed the court ruling even as they doubted its effect.
“Nobody knows whether this would stop this mission to kill poor people or small-time drug addicts,” Ms. Daa said. “There are still frequent reports of killings in poor communities here. It’s hard to cage a beast once it has tasted blood.”
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