Alston says Duterte dominates but is “powerless” on extrajudicial killings

But Duterte said Alston’s 66-page final report on his Philippine mission in February, two pages of which are on his visit to this city, was written by someone who “does not have training to be impartial” and who has made a very short visit to Davao for him to end up with those conclusions.

He described Alston's investigation as "limited only to NGOs.” Alston met with NGOs here but also met with Duterte and officials from the military, police and the Commission on Human Rights.

Duterte, who spoke at the Yearend Meeting of the Regional/City Peace and Order Council late Thursday afternoon, said that since Alston has human rights background, he would naturally focus on human rights.

"Mine is governance. It includes everything. Human rights is just a part of it," he told more than a hundred representatives of the RPOC, which he described as the "most ideal set-up of cooperation" among peace and order councils.

"They always fall in temptation of setting criteria that has been a standard of the West," he said.

Alston described Duterte as an "authoritarian populist" and in a state of denial over the existence of a death squad in Mindanao's premier city. He also noted that the human cost of the killings is "very high."

"The mayor is an authoritarian populist who has held office, aside from a brief stint as a congressman, since 1988. His program is simple: to reach a local peace with the CPP/NPA/NDF and to "strike hard" at criminals.

 He recounted his meeting with Duterte in February.

"When we spoke, he insisted that he controls the army and the police, saying, ‘the buck stops here.’ But, he added, more than once, ‘I accept no criminal liability,’” Alston said.

Duterte clarified Alston's claim. "I am telling you now that the military has followed my lawful suggestions and the police my legal orders," he told the meeting Thursday.
Alston said Duterte repeatedly acknowledged it was his "full responsibility" that hundreds of murders committed in his watch remained unsolved but "he would perfunctorily deny the existence of a death squad and return to the theme that there are no drug laboratories in Davao.”

"The mayor freely acknowledged that he had publicly stated that he would make Davao "dangerous" and "not a very safe place" for criminals, but he insisted that these statements were for public consumption and would have no effect on police conduct. "Police know the law. Police get their training," according to the report, a copy of which was furnished by Integrated Bar of the Philippines Davao City chapter head Manuel Quibod.

"When was it ever wrong to threaten criminals?” Duterte asked as he claimed he was misinterpreted when he told the police he wanted them to solve the problem (of the killings) permanently.

"As a mayor, I cannot be soft. The overriding passion is to protect the city," he said.
Alston said the police used the "Davao Death Squad" as a "polite euphemism" to refer vaguely to "vigilante groups" when accounting for the shocking predictability with which criminals, gang members, and street children were extrajudicially executed.

 He also pointed out that no one involved in the killings covered his face, indicating "strongly to the officially-sanctioned character of these killings."

Alston noted that when Duterte was first elected, "the NPA routinely killed policemen" and also that "Davao has a problem with youth gangs.”

"These are primarily ad hoc social groups for street children aged 10 to 25, but use of drugs and involvement in petty crime is common, and violent gang wars do take place," Alston said.

"By all accounts, the mayor has managed to largely insulate his city from the armed conflict and to limit the presence of some kinds of criminal activity,” noted Alston.

"These accomplishments appear to have bought acquiescence in the measures he takes, and the public remains relatively ignorant of the human cost of death squad ‘justice.’”

He used data from unnamed civil society organizations in citing over 500 people have been killed by the death squad.

"I spoke with witnesses and family members of eight victims and a survivor, and I reviewed the case files of an additional six victims and three survivors," he said citing the  interviews gave him insights into how these killings took place and the enormous emotional damage they inflict on family and friends.

He also described in the report how he was told the death squad operated.

But he said the operations indicate two starting points for investigation and reform: that suspected criminals end up as the "assets" who identify targeted individuals for the death squad, with alleged promise for early release and that "it would appear that barangay officials are sometimes involved in selecting targets for the death squad, a practice perhaps originating in the role barangay officials have played in naming suspected drug dealers for inclusion in PNP watch lists.”

Alston stressed that insofar as prison officials and barangay councils allegedly help the death squad function, "they can be reformed.”

He proposed that the intelligence-gathering role played by barangay officials can be limited and the processing of inmates can be more tightly restricted.

He said to shut the death squad down will require following the evidence upward to the handlers who task "assets" to provide the location of persons on watch lists and who direct hit men to kill them.

"If it were not for the fact that the local office of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines denies the existence of a death squad, it should be capable of conducting an effective investigation. There are many witnesses who would provide information anonymously or who would testify were they to receive a credible protection arrangement," he said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)