DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 August) — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which released on Wednesday its resolution on the 2009 investigations into the alleged “Davao Death Squad” has recommended to the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the “possible administrative and criminal liability” of then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (now vice mayor) “for his inaction in the face of evidence of numerous killings in Davao City and his toleration of the commission of those offenses.”
The resolution, dated June 28 but released only on August 15, triggered reactions, particularly from Duterte supporters, that it was politically motivated as it came three years after the CHR investigations and in the midst of the city’s celebration of its annual Kadayawan Festival.
The CHR concluded that from 2005 to 2009, “there was a systematic practice of extrajudicial killings, which can be attributed or attributable to a vigilante group or groups dubbed in the media as the Davao Death Squad.”
It said the killings were selective, with the victim “usually involved or suspected to have been involved in some type of illegal activity” and the manner of killing distinct in that the assailants “were usually motorcycle-riding gunmen.”
Duterte, who had repeatedly said there are “no state-sponsored killings in the city,” said there is nothing new about the CHR recommendations. Interaksyon.com quoted him as telling reporters the issue on death squad killings is “Pabalik-balik. Ambot. Eleksyon na man gud. Sige lang (It’s the same thing. I don’t know. It’s election time).”
Last month, CHR chair Etta Rosales condemned Duterte’s act of making a suspect in police custody eat a fake land title used in duping informal settlers. .
Rosales was quoted in an Agence France Presse report as saying, “I don’t care who you are, you don’t abuse your authority. Forcing a person to eat fake land titles is in fact a form of torture.”
Malacanang ordered the Department of Interior and Local Government to investigate Duterte.
Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a statement dated August 17, said the CHR resolution is an “important opportunity for the Aquino administration to show that it is serious about holding officials accountable for the worst abuses.”
Adams said the Aquino administration “should promptly implement these recommendations.”
The CHR resolution listed six recommendations, the first urging the Ombudsman to investigate Duterte.
The other recommendations:
- That a serious, impartial and effective investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the deaths attributed or attributable to the so-called Davao Death Squad be conducted by the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) or any independent task force and that the Office of the Ombudsman or Department of Justice duly prosecute the persons responsible;
- That such investigation include the possible omissions, negligence, and obstructions of justice on the part of the local chief executive, local government officials, and local police force;
- That Congress review the grant to the city mayor of general and operational control and supervision over the city police force, as well as his role to act as deputized Napolcom (National Police Commission) representative;
- That appropriate measures be taken by the local police to prevent any further killings fitting the pattern herein described, particularly with respect the use of motorcycles and loose firearms; and
- That the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, update the incumbent UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, of any development in the investigations herein recommended.
“The continuing pattern of killings and the failure to conduct a meaningful investigation of such incidents can be construed as tolerance on the part of the authorities of the crimes heretofore described, thereby contributing to the climate of impunity,” the CHR said.
In late March this year, the Office of the Ombudsman found 21 police personnel here guilty of “simple neglect of duty” for failing to stop or solve the killings and ordered them to pay a fine equivalent to a month’s salary. The Ombudsman said its investigation established that 720 persons were summarily executed in Davao City between 2005 and 2008.
Human Rights Watch in its April 2009 report, “You Can Die Anytime,” documented killings by the Davao Death Squad and similar armed groups in other Philippine cities. The report exposed the workings of the death squad which it found to be controlled largely by police officers or former police officers with the complicity of local government officials who would provide lists of targets. The report said the killers, often paid for each successful execution, were usually former communist guerrillas who had surrendered to the government or criminals who joined the death squad to avoid being targeted themselves.
In its August 17 statement, HRW said recent research it conducted indicates that “death squad killings continue to occur in Davao City, although on a much smaller scale.”
It said the local media “have stopped referring to the Davao Death Squad in reporting but the nature of these killings suggests that death squad activities continue.”
HRW’s Adams noted that by holding Davao City officials “accountable for their failure to prevent and investigate the killings, the Aquino administration can stop the spread of these atrocities to other parts of the country.”
“This would be a concrete way to help families of victims obtain justice and show that its rhetoric on ending impunity is meaningful to ordinary Filipinos,” he said.
“Is there a Davao Death Squad?”
The CHR conducted its first “consultation/public inquiry” on extralegal killings on March 30 and 31, 2009.
Then CHR chair Leila de Lima (now Justice Secretary) opened the inquiry with the question: “is there a Davao Death Squad?” and if it was a “function of criminal audacity, government lethargy or both.”
The CHR conducted the public inquiry following reports that at least 800 persons had been summarily executed in the city since 1998, by a band referred to as “Davao Death Squad” and their later copycats.
She said local officials take pride in the city’s “peace and order” situation and claim that investment and tourism have flourished and criminals from other regions and countries dare not set shop here but she asked, “what kind of peace, what kind of order?”
In his opening statement, Duterte, then mayor, said he would 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.
De Lima replied, “thank you for that commitment,” before interrogating Duterte.
Duterte said he made a promise when he assumed as mayor in 1988 “to make the city the most dangerous place for criminals.” He acknowledged there are killings in the city, “yes, but summary? I don’t know.”
He repeated his previous statements that there are no state-sponsored killings in the city but that he would take full responsibility for the failure to stop the killings. “I take full responsibility for it.”
De Lima noted that Duterte had been issuing bold statements, including expletives.
“We are simly, simply appalled by the boldness of your statements. Unbelievable especially because you are a lawyer,” she 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,” Duterte, a prosecutor before he joined politics in 1986, replied.
On the second day of the CHR inquiry, Duterte wrote then Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno in his capacity as Napolcom chair, his “irrevocable resignation” as the Deputized Representative of Napolcom effective immediately to give the CHR a “free and unhampered conduct” of its investigation into the unresolved killings in the city, “devoid of any possible pressure and/or influence whatsoever.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)