De Lima: CHR will prove there is a Davao Death Squad

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 April) – The Commission on Human Rights has taken up Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s challenge to prove there is a Davao Death Squad (DDS).

“We have been challenged by the mayor and we are taking the challenge. We will prove that there is DDS,” CHR chair Leila de Lima said during a break in Friday afternoon’s public inquiry on extralegal killings at the Waterfront Insular Hotel here.

If proved, she said that they will make recommendations to the authorities to act on the killings.

She said they have been talking to some DDS “insiders” and former members of the dreaded group.

“We have been talking to people, confidentially. But we are constrained by their unwillingness to talk (in public) yet. However, the information that we got from them are significant…” she said.

Duterte in his opening statement on Day 1 of the public inquiry on March 30 said he will submit to De Lima “my resignation as city mayor” if there is an iota of evidence that he, the military or police are behind the killings.

“Before you leave for Manila, you will have my resignation as mayor of Davao City,” he said.

Duterte said he made a promise when he assumed as mayor in 1988 “to make the city the most dangerous place for criminals.”

Duterte said there are killings in the city, “yes, but summary? I don’t know.”

He repeated there are no state-sponsored killings in the city.

He said he takes full responsibility for the failure to stop the killings. “I take full responsibility for it.”

De Lima also said that that the Human Rights Watch report on the Davao killings also confirms  there is a DDS.

But she said that they still have to validate what was written in the 103-page  Human Rights Watch report. Titled “You can die anytime: Death squad killings in Mindanao,” the report was launched in Quezon City on April 7 although HRW Deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson gave a preview of the report at the CHR public  inquiry in Davao City a week earlier, on March 31.

The HRW report “found evidence of complicity and at times direct involvement of government officials and members of the police in killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS).”

Based on “consistent, detailed, and compelling accounts from families and friends of victims, eyewitnesses of targeted killings, barangay officials, journalists, community activists, and the ‘insiders,’ Human Rights Watch has concluded that a death squad and lists of people targeted for killings exist in Davao City.”

“We also conclude that at least some police officers and barangay officials are either involved or complicit in death squad killings. Human Rights Watch believes that such killings continue and the perpetrators enjoy impunity largely because of the tolerance of, and in some cases, outright support from local authorities,” it said.

De Lima said they are now working to get more information from vital sources as well as providing protection for them.

“All we have to do is to validate everything that is written in the (HRW) report. We are going to pursue this investigation no matter how long it takes but we want it to be done as soon as possible,” de Lima said during a break of Day 3 of the public inquiry. Days 1 and 2 were on March 30 and 31, respectively.

The CHR summoned barangay captains from 26 villages to testify in Friday’s session, including Mayor Duterte’s son, Paolo, barangay captain of Catalunan Grande.  Of the 26, 20 showed up at the public inquiry, four village chairs did not show up and did not send any explanation while the remaining two did not make it but sent a written explanations: barangay captain Duterte and Bucana barangay chair Robert Olan-Olan.

The villages were identified during the March 30 public inquiry as having a “high incidence of extralegal or summary killings.”

Barangay chairs Eduardo Tombo of Barangay 3-A in the city’s downtown area, and Erlinda Escasinas of Tibungco told reporters they received the CHR’s summons Thursday afternoon (April 16).

The barangay chairs told similar stories in their testimony: that they heard about the DDS only from media reports and that yes, there are killings in their area but these are mostly due to gang wars.

The CHR adjourned Friday’s session at 7:33 p.m. but de Lima said they are returning on “the second week of May” to resume the public inquiry.

Also among those summoned in Friday’s session was a close-in security of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who, de Lima said,  may be holding “explosive” information.

De Lima said they received information that SP04 Sanson Buenaventura, who recently retired from service, is keeping vital details on supposed operations of the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

Although the questioning on Buenaventura was relatively brief, de Lima’s questions revolved around whether he knows about the existence of the DDS and the deaths attributed to the group.

Buenventura replied  he only learned about the DDS based on media reports. “My focus is on my work as the security officer and driver of Mayor Duterte, Ma’am,” he said.

De Lima, however said, said she expected the answers of Buenaventura, adding that the commission only wanted to confirm that Buenaventura was working for Duterte.

“I expected his replies about DDS but I have to get one information…I had certain information from other witnesses that he must know something. This information is explosive if confirmed,” de Lima told the reporters during the break.

The CHR also summoned Senior Supt. Ramon Apolinario, director of the Davao City Police, who was represented by Supt. Antonio Rivera, chief of the investigation division of the city police. City Legal Officer Melchor Quitain was also summoned but was not around.

As of 4:30 pm, only two barangay captains had been questioned – Mario Reta of Sasa and James Salvador of Buhangin. Both vehemently denied the existence of DDS as they also they only heard about the DDS from news reports.

The CHR adjourned Friday’s session at 7:33 p.m. but de Lima said they are returning on “the second week of May” to resume the public inquiry.  (Keith Bacongco with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)