CHR begins public hearings on extrajudicial killings

Bayan Muna’s Joel Virador says they will “see and observe the first hearing tomorrow.” But Father Amado Picardal of the Coalition Against Summary Execution (Case), says they have doubts “if witnesses would come out in the open to testify about the killings in front of authorities whom everyone suspects of tolerating or supporting these.”

De Lima announced in a media conference in Cebu City on February 14 that a public hearing would be held in Davao City on March 30 and that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte would be among the persons invited for questioning.

De Lima said Duterte expressed willingness to cooperate. She said he gave her a historical context of the rise of vigilante killings in Davao City during a meeting two weeks earlier.

"Mayor Duterte is no. 1 in our list. He pointed out that the killings started during the rise of the Alsa Masa in the 1980s. But we want to know what the local government has done to stop the killings," de Lima told reporters and editors in a workshop on extralegal killings and enforced disappearances sponsored by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).

She said local government and police officials, as well as NGOs, the religious groups, media and the academe, will also be summoned to the public hearing.

"We want to know why there is no public outcry. Bakit walang witnesses? Is there public acceptance to the killings? We want to know the answers because we want to send a strong message to Davao City residents that these killings must be stopped and the perpetrators should be brought to justice," de Lima said.

Picardal said he hopes the CHR would conduct a probe on the vigilante killings and not just a public hearing because witnesses will likely not appear before a public hearing.

The public hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 in the morning at the Mandaya hotel on March 30 and 31. The third day will be on the case of Rebelyn Pitao, the 20-year old daughter of New Peoples Army commander Leoncio Pitao alias Parago, who was abducted on March 4 in Bago Gallera, Talomo, Davao City, and was found dead the next day in an irrigation canal in Carmen, Davao del Norte.  

The CHR  has not released a list of those who have been called to the public hearing. But Mayor Duterte’s aide  told MindaNews Sunday night that the mayor has yet to receive a copy of the schedule for him to appear. 

On February 9, the City Council’s Committee on Human Rights and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Davao City chapter organized a multi-sectoral dialogue on the summary killings where the IBP reported 813 victims of summary killings from 1998. In January 2009 alone, 33 persons had been reported killed.

Duterte was mayor of the city from 1988 to 1998. Having completed three terms as mayor, he ran for and won a seat as congressman of the first district.  His vice mayor, Benjamin de Guzman, ran for and won the mayoralty in 1998. Duterte ran again for mayor in 2001, unseating de Guzman.

The usual pattern  of the killings, committed allegedly by “Davao Death Squad,” involves motorcycle-riding men using the .45 caliber pistol. Lately, however, most of the killings in Davao City have been through stabbing.

Senior Superintendent Ramon Apolinario, city police chief, maintained the Davao Death Squad does not exist.

On February 24, Archbishop of Davao, Fernando Capalla, issued an oratio imperata (obligatory prayer), mandating Catholics attending the daily and Sunday masses, to recite the prayer “on bended knees” after the Holy Communion for the city’s healing “in view of the unabated series of summary killings” here.

The prayer is to be recited for one year starting Ash Wednesday, February 25.

Duterte on March 4 told a crowd gathered for the sixth anniversary of the Davao Airport bombing, that when he first assumed the post of mayor in 1988, the city was “topsy-turvy” and he vowed to make it a peaceful place.

“I promised Davao City that it would be peaceful. It would have its cost,” he said, adding the CHR the Integrated Bar of the Philippines “are coming I think this month to conduct an investigation.”

“May I just put something forward. I said that I will make the city as peaceful as it can ever be. I do not deal with day to day crimes. It is not true that we are killing innocent children…But for those high profile crimes. … para malaman ng lahat (for everyone to know), if you traffic drugs, if you are into terrorism, if you go about plunder the people, killing them for no reason at all, you know, let us cut the crap. I intend to do what I set out to do. And if you are into this category, malaman na ng president (let the President know), Human Rights, and whoever would want to listen, you are always in my book, a legitimate target for assassination,” Duterte said.

He said he will give this category of criminals tickets for them to go home. “I will be happy to give you the ticket (home)… or simply reform if you are inside (the city). Kung hindi, talagang patay ka. Wala akong magagawa dyan. Wala talaga akong magawa. (If not, you’re dead. I can’t do anything about that. I can’t do anything). [MindaNews]