Human Rights Watch says killings may be "state-sanctioned"

The report, titled “You can die anytime,” will be launched on April 7 in Manila. Based on Human Rights Watch Asia Division’s investigations here last year, the report provides extensive information on the killings and even the “workings of the death squads” from interviews with insiders and relatives of hitmen, she said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch is “one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights.” It focuses international attention where human rights are violated, to “give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes.”

Pearson said the Human Rights Watch team investigated 28 cases of killings between 2007 and 2008, 19 of them in Davao City.  The team interviewed families, relatives, eyewitnesses, government officials, human rights groups.

Pearson was the only representative of a human rights group that delivered a statement at the public inquiry. The Coalition Against Summary Execution, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao – submitted only written documentations to the CHR and met with the CHR in executive session.

Despite claims that Davao City is peaceful, Pearson said “the city remains a very dangerous place.”
Human Rights Watch is recommending a full, independent probe on the killings, including the alleged involvement and complicity of policemen.

She said the  CHR should also investigate if “statements made by officials may have ignited violence.” She did not name the officials.

A day earlier, CHR chair Leila de Lima had told Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, “we are simply, simply appalled by the boldness of your statements. Unbelievable especially because you are a lawyer,” he said.

“I am I. Ganon talaga bunganga ko. (That’s the way I speak). I am a lawyer. I am  also a prosecutor. I am I,” he said.

Pearson said the report presented indicators that the killings are state-sanctioned and that these include the common use of motorcycles without license plates, implying tacit support from authorities or authorities turning a blind eye on these.

Also, Pearson said Human Rights Watch was able to gather “extensive details” on the operations and structure of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS)  from witnesses and relatives of operatives, suggesting the death squad’s links with state authorities.

Duterte has repeatedly said “there are no state-sponsored killings” in the city. He said that again before the CHR last Monday.

Pearson said the hitmen, according to the report, have handlers or “amo” (boss) who “may be police officers or retired police officers.”

Pearson said that based on their investigations, the triggermen do not seem afraid because “the person who would be the one to arrest them is usually their boss.”

If, indeed, they get arrested, they are not worried because they are certain they will be able to get out.

The killings usually happen in broad daylight. Witnesses have said the killers don’t wear masks. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)