In a statement emailed to MindaNews over the weekend, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said city police director Senior Supt. Robert Po and Mayor Pedro Acharon Jr. issued the "sweeping" conclusion on the killings, which left at least seven people dead, reportedly ahead of an official police investigation.
It cited that their "sweeping allegations and immediate conclusions" practically justified the killings.
According to police records, the seven murders separately happened from Holy Tuesday until Black Saturday in various parts of the city. The victims were either gunned down or stabbed dead.
"Our investigation shows that these victims were involved in various criminal activities, especially carnapping, prior to the killings," Po told reporters here last week.
The police official immediately denied speculations that the killings could be the handiwork of local vigilante groups, which had also been blamed by local residents to a string of killings in the area in the past years.
But he confirmed that most of the victims were implicated in various criminal activities in the area.
He said some of the victims were monitored by local police operatives for their supposed involvement in cases of car theft in the city during the past several months.
Mayor Pedro Acharon Jr., who had expressed alarm over the killings, also said it appears that the supposed involvement of the victims in car theft cases have triggered the murders.
"Posibleng nagka-onsehan sa grupo nila (They possibly tried to double-cross each other)," the mayor said.
He said members of the local group of car thieves have reportedly become wary of each other fearing some of them have already tipped their activities to local authorities.
The AHRC said police investigators initially confirmed that one of the victims, 16-year old Rolim Dagano, was included in the "list" of persons allegedly involved in the theft of motorcycles in the city.
But apart from Dagano, the group said the police have not confirmed whether the six other victims were in their supposed list of criminals.
AHRC said the police clearly laid out Dagano's previous records of theft to illustrate his supposed connections in criminal acts before even completing their investigation.
"When crimes are committed it is the obligation of the police to investigate and discover those who are responsible. Whether or not the murder victim had a criminal record is no justification for not carrying out a legitimate investigation. Murder is a criminal act and it is the duty of the police to hold those responsible to account," the AHRC pointed out.
By failing to properly investigate the matter, the group said authorities have denied the victims' families of any remedies, particularly of knowing the circumstances of their loved ones' death.
It also buried the claims of their relatives that their loved ones were not criminals, were never involved in any criminal activity and might have been killed by mistake, it said.
The group said it deprived the victims and their families of equality before the law and equal protection of the law because the law enforcers and the local officials have themselves justified these murders.
"Justifying these murders has given blanket impunity to the perpetrators who continuously shot their targets dead in open public," AHRC added.
In January, a spate of killings also happened in the city that left 10 persons dead in just three weeks. Most of the victims then were reportedly drivers of habal-habal or improvised motorcycles that are used to ferry passengers.
Among the alleged local vigilante groups that were tied to the earlier killings were the so-called Dadiangas Death Squad and the motorcycle-riding Broom-broom boys.
But police have repeatedly denied their existence. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)