By Malou Mangahas
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
SWORN STATEMENTS of key informants, the transcripts of stenographic notes, and official records and documents from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), as well as reports of other state bodies and rights groups into the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) over the last eight years should have moved the story about this alleged group of assassins beyond the conduct of public hearings.
But dithering and unfocused action by the concerned public officials and state agencies, a tragic lack of witnesses carefully consumed by fear of retaliation, and the exceedingly slow court processes have resulted in fits and starts in the multiple official efforts to investigate allegations about the DDS and those behind it.
A spate of killings of alleged petty criminals, along with those of drug pushers and addicts — including minors — in Davao City during the multiple mayoralty terms of Rodrigo R. Duterte there had been reported to be the work of DDS.
(Duterte had seven full terms as mayor of Davao City between 1988 and 2016, but also served as congressman from 1998 to 2001, and vice mayor from 2010 to 2013.)
In March 2009, the Commission on Human Rights, then chaired by Leila de Lima, launched a series of public hearings, summoned nearly 50 respondents, and lined up half a dozen sworn testimonies “In The Matter Of The Extralegal Or Summary Killings In Davao City Attributed To The So-Called Davao Death Squad For The Period 2005-2009.”
But it was only three years later, on June 28, 2012, when the CHR, by then chaired by Loretta Ann Rosales, issued an en banc resolution that outlined six recommendations in response to the findings of the de Lima CHR’s inquiry.
Five years hence and with new testimonies from two self-confessed DDS hitmen — Edgar Matobato and newly retired SPO3 Arturo Lascañas — the CHR now chaired by Jose Luis Gascon wants to resume its investigation into the DDS.
Lascañas, the former police chiefs of Davao City, and CHR officials have been asked to testify today on the DDS before the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Matobato had testified in September 2016 before the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights then headed by de Lima; Lascañas testified in October 2016 before the same committee, but by then the chairmanship had passed on to Sen. Richard Gordon.
While there are those who remain hopeful that some clarity about the DDS would finally emerge from the latest hearings, results from previous similar efforts are far from encouraging.
Indeed, all that has happened by way of results from the various DDS inquiries is this: in March 2012, the Office of the Ombudsman imposed a fine equivalent to one-month’s salary on 21 high-ranking officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP) for “neglect of duty” or failure to act on “the unabated killings in Davao City… attributed to the ‘Davao Death Squad (DDS)’” that occurred from 2005 to 2008.
The Ombudsman’s action was not even triggered directly or indirectly by anything from the CHR. Instead, the Ombudsman’s case stemmed from a letter-complaint “sent by a person purporting to represent a group named Davao City Deserves Good Government Movement, claiming that a certain group known as the DDS was ‘responsible for the unsolved killings of more than 800 persons’.”
“The same complaint alleged that high-ranking officers of the PNP were directly involved in the murders,” the Ombudsman said. “Records showed that from 2005 to 2008, the Davao City Police Office registered an unusually high number of unsolved killings… 720 persons murdered; 97 in 2005; 165 in 2006; 199 in 2007 and 259 in 2008.” Only half the cases, or 321, were solved, noted the Ombudsman, even as the murders were “repeatedly committed within the areas of jurisdiction of respondents’ precincts where they were assigned.”
De Lima & Aguirre
In this series of failed investigations into the DDS, those who failed their mandates to ferret out the truth and do justice to those who were killed include two Justice secretaries at opposite ends of the political spectrum today: DDS critic, former Justice Secretary, and now Sen. Leila de Lima, and incumbent Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
De Lima served as justice chief for over five years from June 30, 2010 to October 12, 2015. During that period, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), an agency under her office, exerted no significant effort to investigate the findings into the DDS of the CHR under her and her successor. Even until last week, a CHR insider said that the NBI has yet to submit any report of any investigation into the DDS that it had conducted under de Lima.
Meanwhile, apart from his repeated flat denials of the DDS’s existence, Aguirre, the current justice chief, is in a real conflict-of-interest situation on the DDS issue. Aguirre had served as lead counsel of a key DDS player: SPO4 (Ret.) Bienvenido Laud alias “Tatay Laud,” owner of the Laud firing range and quarry in Purok 3, Barangay Ma-a, Davao City, where many DDS victims had been killed and buried, according to sworn testimonies of the CHR’s witnesses.
On Nov. 9, 2014, the Supreme Court First Division had upheld the grant of a search warrant to uncover the bones of six victims who, on the testimony of a first-hand witness, the DDS had killed and buried at the Laud Quarry in Davao City in 2005.
The ruling should have opened a new window of opportunity for the police and the CHR to resume their investigation into the DDS last year, on the strength of a valid search warrant upheld by the high court no less. Yet neither the CHR nor the PNP acted on the high court’s cue.
The Supreme Court decision had even ordered the PNP in no uncertain terms to go search the Laud quarry. It said in part: “You are hereby commanded to make an immediate search at any time [of] the day of the premises…particularly the three (3) caves (as sketched) inside the said Laud Compound, Purok 3, Brgy. Ma-a, Davao City and forthwith seize and take possession of the remains of six (6) victims who were killed and buried in the just said premises.”
Aguirre had signed and filed for his client Laud in the case before a Manila regional trial court, and which eventually reached the high court, way back in 2009. But just months ago at the Senate hearing into the DDS in September 2016, the Justice Secretary still sounded like a defense lawyer for Laud.
The Senate was told of a sworn statement by a witness, Edgar Avasola, who said that he had helped bury DDS victims at the Laud compound. Avasola, in his statement submitted to the Supreme Court, had also said that during a visit in 2009 a CHR team led by de Lima found bones at the site. To this Aguirre remarked: “The bodies did not prove anything. In fact, there were statements that they were bodies of people who were executed during the Japanese occupation.” Some of the skeletons, he said, were probably those of animals.
Other than de Lima and Aguirre, a number of the PNP officers who had been linked to the DDS and had been fined by the Ombudsman for failure to act on the DDS, remain in active duty status, or now occupy major civilian positions as appointees of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
These former and incumbent officers include:
Former P/SSUPT Catalino Cuy, who has been appointed by Duterte as undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government;
Former P/SSUPT Jaime Morente, who has been appointed by Duterte as chief of the Bureau of Immigration;
P/CINSP Filmore Escobal, who was named in May 2016 as the PNP’s liaison officer for the transition preparations for the Presidential Security Group under Duterte. Escobal headed a group of 36 policemen from Davao City sent to the PSG training school “to learn the rudiments of protecting the president (Duterte)”;
Inspector Rommil Mitra, until November 2016, Makati City police chief, and now the chief of the Directorial Staff of the PNP Region Office 3 (Central Luzon);
SPO4 Sanson ‘Sonny’ Buenaventura, Duterte’s “driver-bodyguard” from 1998 to 2008, who is now assigned to civil security work at the Davao City Hall.
P/SUPT Harry Espela, the incumbent police chief of Davao Oriental province; and
P/SUPT Michael John Dubria, the incumbent Davao City police chief.
Meanwhile, one of those that CHR had summoned in 2009 to testify on the DDS, P/Supt Ramon Apolinario, is now the PNP’s deputy director general for operations.
Apolinario had served as Davao City’s police chief from 2008 to 2010. As the No. 2 man in the PNP today, he is said to be a frontrunner to succeed PNP Director-General Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa who will retire on January 12, 2018 when he turns 56 years old. De la Rosa himself had served as Davao City police chief from 2012 to 2013.
In its 23-page en banc resolution dated June 28, 2012, the CHR under Rosales had submitted the following recommendations regarding the DDS:
”That the Office of the Ombudsman investigate the possible administrative and criminal liability of Mayor Duterte for his inaction in the face of evidence of numerous killings committed in Davao City and his toleration of the commission of those offenses;
”That a serious, impartial, and effective investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the deaths attributed or attributable to a so-called Davao Death Squad be conducted by the NBI or other 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 obstruction 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 U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, of any development in the investigations herein recommended.”
“[I]t is not necessary to determine the perpetrators’ culpability or intentionality in order to establish that the rights enshrined in the Convention have been violated, nor is it essential to identify individually the agents to whom the acts of violation are attributed,” said the CHR.
“The sole requirement is to demonstrate that the State authorities supported or tolerated infringement of the rights recognized in the Convention. Moreover, the State’s international responsibility is also at issue when it does not take the necessary steps under its domestic law to identify and, where appropriate, punish the authors of such violations.”(Emphasis in original)
“The State can be held liable for violations committed by third parties when it can be shown that the State had knowledge of a real and immediate threat and failed to adopt reasonable measures to prevent it,” the CHR added. “[E]ven if the killings are not all the work of forces of the government, the government has a responsibility to protect all the people under its jurisdiction.” (Emphasis in original)
Death by DDS: 206
According to the investigation conducted by the CHR under de Lima, and reports gathered by the CHR Region XI office, “there were 375 recorded killings in the period of 2005 to 2008, of which 63% were allegedly involved in illegal activities.”
But, said the CHR, “a closer scrutiny of the records of cases before the Region XI Office of the Commission can narrow down the number… (to) 206 deaths attributed or attributable to the DDS during the period of 2005-2009.”
Of the 206 cases, it said, “107 victims had records or were suspected of involvement in illegal activities (51.94%), which supports the statistical findings of the (United Nations) Special Rapporteur (Philip Alston), 90 victims were either shot or stabbed by motorcycle-riding assailants (45.14%) and 19 victims were confirmed minors (9.22%), which matches the findings of the Human Rights Watch.”
As to the manner of the killing, the CHR found that “of the 206 deaths attributed or attributable to the DDS, 157 were shot (76.21%), which again supports the statistical findings of the Special Rapporteur. On the other hand, 36 were stabbed (17.47%), or slightly higher than the statistical findings of the latter.”
“Finally,” said the CHR, “of the 206 deaths, 93 were confirmed shot or stabbed by motorcycle-riding assailants (45.14%), while the circumstances surrounding the other killings were not reported or not known.”
The CHR resolution noted that “the numbers submitted by the PNP differ vastly from those of the Commission, pointing to 135 unsolved killings in 2005; 182 in 2006; 193 in 2007; 140 in 2008; and 92 in 2009.” The bigger numbers submitted by the PNP account for “all classes of killings (that) are lumped together, whether murder or homicide, without any distinction as to victim profile, manner of killing, or circumstances attending the killing.”
In addition, the CHR said that the UN Special Rapporteur’s report offered a third set of numbers: “153 deaths attributed or attributable to the DDS in 2005; 65 deaths in 2006; 116 in 2007; and 269 in 2008.” Yet still, “although the sample periods and aggregate numbers differ, the statistical findings of the Commission and Special Rapporteur match on some key indicators.”
No action, few witnesses
The 2012 CHR resolution lamented the lack of action, or even interest, of Duterte and the Davao City police to take the first step to investigate the killings, particularly those attributed to the DDS or to “vigilantes.”
The dearth of witnesses and substantial leads led to many unsolved killings, the CHR reported. “In 2009, there were witnesses in 11 of the 20 killings (55%), but only in 3 were descriptions of perpetrators given (15%). In 2008, there were witnesses in 10 of the 27 killings (37%) and no descriptions. In 2007, there were witnesses in 14 of the 32 killings (43.75%), but no descriptions were given while 5 refused to cooperate (15.62%). In 2006, there were witnesses in 23 of the 57 killings (40.35%), with 12 giving no description (21%) and 9 refusing to cooperate (15.78%). In 2005, there were witnesses in 36 of the 70 killings (51.42%), with 29 giving no description (50.87%) and 6 refusing to cooperate (10.52%).”
In sum, from 2005 to 2009, there were witnesses in only 94 or less than half of the 206 killings, and of this small number, in 20 cases, the witnesses “outright refused to cooperate.”
What the CHR found to be “deplorable” was the Davao City police’s resort to less than diligent investigation of the cases, according to the PNP’s investigation protocols. Said the CHR: “As observed by the Commission during its public inquiry, there is an over-reliance of the DCPO (Davao City Police) on testimonial evidence, such that the lack of witnesses is often used as justification for stalled investigations.”
“Worse,” the CHR added, “a number of witnesses told Human Rights Watch that once at the crime scene, the police ‘often failed to take even the most basic steps, such as examining the body, questioning witnesses, or collecting and examining material evidence, including bullet casings’.”
Instead, “the police pressured the family to identify the perpetrators, saying that otherwise the family would not be able to file a complaint,” the CHR resolution said. “All of these run contrary to procedure laid down in the PNP Criminal Investigation Manual. This is deplorable.”
At the very least, the CHR said, Duterte and his police commanders should be held liable for “command responsibility and dereliction of duty.”
Said the CHR resolution: “Mayor Duterte, aside from his NAPOLCOM deputization and control over the police force, heads the Peace and Order Council of Davao City, the funds of which are supposedly intended to deal with crimes and insurgency. These funds, which are administered by the Mayor, trickle down primarily to the police stations and barangay captains, who are the main recipients.”
“The principle of command responsibility is an accepted notion in military or police structural dynamics,” the CHR said, such that any officer of the PNP can be held accountable for neglect of duty under such principle “if he has knowledge that a crime [… ] is being committed, or has been committed by his subordinates, [… ] and, despite such knowledge, he did not take preventive or corrective action [… ] during, or immediately after its commission.”
This principle, noted the CHR, “is embodied in the PNP Reform and Reorganization Act, which provides for the automatic inclusion in the investigation of the superior or supervisor of the personnel or units being investigated.”
The CHR also pointed out that it is guided by international criminal law, which provides that “a superior who is not a military commander or acting as a military commander may be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by subordinates under his or her effective authority and control.” This results from “his or her failure to exercise control properly over such subordinates” in these instances:
”The superior either knew, or consciously disregarded information which clearly indicated, that the subordinates were committing or about to commit such crimes;
”The crimes concerned activities that were within the effective responsibility and control of the superior; and
”The superior failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power to prevent or repress their commission or to submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution.” (Emphasis in original)
To the CHR, Duterte, “as the local chief executive and deputized NAPOLCOM representative with general and operational control and supervision over the city police force, has clearly disregarded information of alleged violation of the right to life committed in Davao City.” Additionally, it said, Duterte “has not acted thereon, before or since the public inquiries of the Commission, thereby, at the very least, tolerating the commission of offenses, as defined and penalized in the Revised Penal Code.”
According to the CHR resolution, “criminal responsibility is incurred by anyone who “orders, solicits, or induces the commission of a crime or who ‘in any other way contributes to the commission of a crime by a group of persons acting with a common purpose’.”
“Mayor Duterte should bear this in mind since he admits saying that he would make Davao City the most dangerous city for criminals, except that he claims he says so only in jest, to ‘uplift’ the community,” the resolution said. “One wonders if the community is uplifted because the statement means exactly what it does.”
The CHR continued, “Equally alarming to the Commission is that he justifies the foregoing statement and a similar one about killing human rights activists by simply stating that ‘ganun talaga ako (that’s the way I am)’.”
Finally, said the CHR, “while Mayor Duterte may claim that any government official involved with the so-called DDS would be doing so on his own, the fact remains that officials of the PNP have noticed the volume and pattern of the killings, to which Mayor Duterte seems to have paid no attention or has chosen to ignore and not have it investigated.”
Series of hearings
For sure the CHR had much to draw from when it formulated its resolution. After all, when de Lima launched the CHR investigation three years earlier, she had done so with the following objectives listed in her March 16, 2009 memorandum:
”To ascertain the actual extent of human rights violations, specifically cases of extralegal killings or summary execution in the city, and their implications on the peace and order situation in the area;
”To examine the causes of and reasons for the killings and explore alternative measures to address the violations and its causes;
”To organize and/or seek the support of government agencies at the local level and civil society organizations in order to expedite investigation of the complaints for human rights violations by reason of the extralegal or summary killings; and
”To consolidate facts and figures pertaining to incidents of extralegal killings for the purpose of assessing the human rights situation/condition in the city.”
By all indications, the investigation that de Lima conducted was a massive effort on her part and that of the CHR staff. De Lima summoned the attendance of 39 local and police officials and “non-state actors” at public hearings held on March 30-31, 2009 at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City:
P/CHIEF SUPT. PEDRO S. TANGO, Regional Director, Philippine National Police, Region XI, Camp Catitipan, Buhangin, Davao City;
P/SR. SUPT. BENEDICTO RASAY GOROSPE, Regional chief, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) XI, Camp Domingo Leonor, Davao City;
P/SUPT. ANTONIO ERSANDO RIVERA, Chief, Investigation Detection Management Service, Camp Domingo Leonor, Davao City;
P/SUPT. MATTHEW P. BACCAY, Deputy Chief, Directorate for Integrated Police Operations, Eastern Mindanao, Camp Catitipan, Davao City;
P/CHIEF INSP. RAMON C. APOLINARIO, City Director, Davao City Police Office, Camp Domingo Leonor, Davao City;
P/CHIEF INSP. ANTONIO D. ALVERIO, JR., Precinct Commander, Buhangin Police Precinct, Buhangin, Davao City;
P/SR. INSP. RANULFO A. CABANOG, Precinct Commander, Sta. Ana Police Precinct, Sta. Ana, Davao City;
P/CHIEF INSP. ALDEN BACARA-DELVO, Precinct Commander, San Pedro Police Precinct, Davao City;
P/SUPT. MICHAEL JOHN FERNANDO DUBRIA, CSEE Station Commander, Police Precinct No- 3, Matina, Davao City;
P/CHIEF INSP. LEONARDO ALMIRANTE FELONIA, Precinct Commander, Sasa Police Station, Sasa, Davao City;
P/CHIEF INSP. JOE NIEL ESTENZO ROJO, Precinct Commander;
P/SUPT. VICENTE DANAO, Logistics Officer, R-4, Camp Catitipan, Buhangin, Davao City;
P/SR-SUPT. AARON N. AQUINO, Chief, Regional Investigation and and Detective Management Division, Camp Catitipan, Buhangin, Davao, Toril Police Pricinct, Sta. Ana, Davao City;
ATTY. ROMULO G MANAPSAL, Regional Director, National Bureau of Investigation, J.P- Laurel Avenue, Davao City;
MAJOR GENERAL RAYMUNDO B. FERRER, AFP, Commanding Officer, Eastern Mindanao Command, PA, Camp Panacan, Davao City;
MAJ. GEN. REYNALDO B. MAPAGU, AFP Commanding Officer, 10th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, Camp Panacan, Davao City;
LT. COL. OSCAR O. LACTAO, Commanding Officer, Task Force Davao, Ecoland, Davao City:
ATTY. ANTONIO B. ARELLANO, Regional State Prosecutor, Regional State Prosecutor’s Office, Hall of Justice, Ecoland, Davao City;
HON. RAUL BENDIGO, City Prosecutor, Davao City Prosecution Office, Hall of Justice, Ecoland, Davao City;
ATTY. FRANCISA. CALATRAVA, Regional Public Attorney, Public Attorney’s Office, Hall of Justice, Ecoland, Davao City;
ATTY. CARLOS ISAGANI ZARATE, as former President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Davao City Chapter;
ATTY. CEASAR S. EUROPA, IBP President, IBP Office Hall of Justice, Ecoland, Davao City;
ATTY. MANUEL QUIBOD, Dean, Ateneo College of Law, Ateneo de Davao University, Davao City;
ATTY. MELCHOR V. QUITAIN, Dean, University of Mindanao, College of Law, Davao City;
HON. ISAAC G. ROBILLO, Executive Judge, RTC, Branch 13, Hall of Justice, Ecoland, Davao City, “to appear and testify… submit information relating to the number and status of both pending and disposed ELK cases, and as part of the Judiciary, the actions undertaken to address the issue”;
ATTY. JONATHAN M. JOCOM, Chairman, PLEB l, District I, People’s Law Enforcement Board, PLEB Office, Third Floor, Sanggunian Building, Davao City;
ATTY JOSELITO SEVILLA, Chairman, PLEB 2, District 2, People’s Law Enforcement Board, Third Floor, Sanggunian Building, Davao City;
HON. VICTORIO S. ADVINCULA, SR., Chairman, PLEB 3, District 3,People’s Law Enforcement Board, Third Floor, Sanggunian Building, Davao City;
ATTY. EDUARDO U. ESCUETA, Commissioner Designated Vice Chairman and Executive Officer, National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM), 371 Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati City;
ATTY. EDELBERTO S. FERMIL, Regional Director National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM K), 2nd Flr., Dacudao Bldg., San Pedro St., Davao City, “to appear and testify… and submit data on complaints filed with your respective offices against any member of the Philippine National Police relating to the subject matter of this consultation/public inquiry”;
HON. HUMPHREY MONTEROSO, Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, Davao City:
HON. RODRIGO R. DUTERTE, City Mayor, Davao City;
HON. DANILO DAYANGHIRANG, Chairman, Committee on Human Rights, City Council Of Davao City;
HON. CARLO BELLO, City Councilor, Legislative Hall, Davao City;
MR. QUIRINO L. LIBUNAO, CESO III, Regional Director, Department of Interior and Local Government, Matina, Davao City;
DIR. MERILO Q. LIMBARO, City Director, DILG City Hall Drive, Davao City;
MR. EFREN ELBANBUENA, Regional Director, Philippine Information Agency, Quimpo Blvd., Ecoland, Davao City;
MRS. ESTER ACEBEDO-VERZOSA, Regional Director, DSWD, R. Magsaysay Ave., cor. Damazo Suazo St., Davao City; and
HON. MELCHOR P. ROSALES, Undersecretary for Peace and Order and Transnational Crimes, Department of Interior and Local Government, Francisco Gold Condominium II, EDS4, cor. Mapagmahal St, Diliman, Quezon City.
In subsequent hearings in April 2009, de Lima’s CHR would also summon the heads of several barangays in Davao City, including Mayor Duterte’s eldest son Paolo, who was then the village chief of Barangay Catalunan Grande.
Matobato & Lascañas
The CHR eventually obtained the sworn testimonies of at least four people — some of whose affidavits do not bear their real names “for security reasons,” according to the CHR records — who disclosed their respective first-hand accounts of the operations of the DDS.
Some other witnesses offered information in confidence or in letters to the CHR. Records of the PNP regional and local commands on the number of homicide and murder cases during the period, as well as their roster of officers and men were also summoned by the CHR.
Matobato and Lascañas were not among these witnesses. Instead, the CHR witnesses had named them as participants or leaders in some of the murders attributed to the DDS.
Excerpts from these testimonies read:
”Na meron din mga pinatay sa Toril District na mga pinaghihinalaang mga durugista. Binaril sila ni Arturo Lascañas at retired SPO4 Bienvenido Laud (That people suspected of being drug addicts were also killed in Toril District. They were shot by Arturo Lascanas and retired SPO4 Bienvenido Laud)”;
”Na sa Daco Ville Subdivision, pinatay din ang most wanted na si Allan Estrada na binaril ni Arturo Lascañas at Edgar Matobato (That in Daco Ville Subdivision, Arturo Lascanas and Edgar Matobato also shot ‘most wanted’ Allan Estrada).”
”Na si Jimmy Lito Duran ay isa sa mga taga-libing sa Laud. Si Arturo Lascañas naman ang in-charge sa isang safehouse at isa rin na lupain na parehong matatagpuan sa Gaisano Compound, Marfori Heights. Matapos damputin ang isang tao, pinapatay nila ito pagkalipas ng ilang oras (That Jimmy Lito Duran is among those who would bury bodies in Laud. Arturo Lascañas meanwhile was in charge of a safehouse and a piece of land that could both be found within Gaisano Compound, Marfori Heights. They would pick up someone, then kill the person after a few hours).”
”Isang halimbawang pinatay ni Arturo Lascañas ay ang kasamahan namin na si Edgardo Pacansala noong 2003 o 2004 at doon namin inilibing. Pinatay siya bagamat kasamahan namin siya sapagkat tumanggap siya at nagsagawa ng transaksyon sa labas at di galing sa opisina. Ang mga pribadong transaksyon ay ipinagbabawal sa opisina (One of those killed by Arturo Lascañas was our colleague Edgardo Pacansala in 2003 or 2004 and that’s where we buried him. He was killed despite being part of our group because he accepted and did a transaction that did not come from our office. Private transactions are not allowed by the office).”
”Na personal ko nakilala na napabilang sa opisina na ito ay ang mga sumusunod: Sonny Buenaventura, Arturo Lascañas, Jimmy Tan, Jun Naresma, Vivencio Jumawan, Bobong Aquino, Jemelito Durang, Eduardo Lagura, Felix Carillo at marami pang iba (That I personally knew the following to be part of this office: Sonny Buenaventura, Arturo Lascanas, Jimmy Tan, Jun Naresma, Vivencio Jumawan, Bobong Aquino, Jemelito Durang, Eduardo Lagura, Felix Carillo and many more).”
The CHR’s investigation was suspended midstream, however, after de Lima was appointed justice secretary by then newly elected President Benigno S. Aquino III in June 2010. Her CHR team later submitted to those she left behind at the Commission the records of the investigation and what one CHR insider described as a “less than complete final report.” The task of following through the findings of de Lima’s CHR team passed on to her successors in the CHR en banc led by Rosales.
It would take Rosales’s team nearly three years to study and review the investigation’s records before it could issue its resolution on the DDS on June 28, 2012.
Still, at day’s end, the 2012 CHR resolution found that, based on the testimonies of those summoned to the CHR hearings, there was one and only one person who affirmed with no qualification the existence of the DDS. Said the resolution: “Only Isaac G. Robillo, Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, believes that there is a DDS.”
Robillo, the resolution said, “confirms that, based on media reports, there is a pattern as regards the profile of the victims and style of (the) perpetrators.”
A second qualified confirmation came from Raul D. Bendigo, then Davao City prosecutor. But because Bendigo deals “only with evidence and facts,” the CHR said, he “cannot confirm the existence of the DDS” even as “in his personal opinion, ‘there is too much smoke. There must be fire’.”
All the other resource persons who testified at the CHR hearings offered qualified to firm denials that the DDS existed. They include, according to the CHR resolution, “Rodrigo R. Duterte, then Davao City Mayor (‘Mayor Duterte’), (who) categorically denies the existence of the DDS, and denies that the city government sponsors any death squad. If any government employee, military or police personnel were involved, they would be doing it on their own.”
Like Duterte, the CHR said, the following officers also voiced flat denials of the DDS’s existence:
P/Supt. Antonio Ersando Rivera, Chief of the Investigation and Detection Management Division of the Davao City Police Office;
Danilo Dayanghirang, Davao City Councilor;
Sanson Buenaventura, a retired member of the Davao City Police Office assigned to the Office of the Mayor since 1998; and
Arnilbansa T. Mantling, Punong Barangay of 23-C.
Some other officers and resource persons offered “cautious” statements about the existence of the DDS but also voiced concern about the spate and volume of the killings. They include, according to the CHR resolution:
”Jesus A. Versoza, then Director General of the Philippine National Police (‘PNP’) is more cautious. He explains that there is no proof yet that there is indeed a DDS, although it may seem otherwise due to the volume and pattern of the killings.”
”P/Chief Supt. Pedro S. Tango, Regional Director for the PNP in Region XI, notes that something ‘not ordinary’ is happening insofar as killing is concerned’… the frequency…is so alarming that some attention or much attention should be focused on these killings’.”
”P/Sr. Supt. Benedicto R. Gorospe, Regional Chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (“CIDG”), PNP, in Region XI, also noticed the almost daily occurrence of vigilante-style killings.”
”P/Sr. Insp. Ranulfo Cabanog, Station Commander of the Sta. Ana Police Station, Davao City, confirms there is (sic) vigilante-style killings as does P/Supt. Michael Fernando Dupria, Station Commander of Police Precinct No. 3, Davao City, particularly when victims are alleged police characters. According to the latter, the PNP is open to the possibility that there may be several death squads.”
”P/Chief Insp. Alden Bacara Delvo, Station Commander of the San Pedro Police Station, Davao City, claims that the PNP has busted crime groups involved in guns-for-hire, which are in existence.”
”Alexander Vidal, Punong Barangay of Talomo Proper, has heard of the DDS but has no idea of their identities or whereabouts and will not confirm its existence.”
”Rene Estorpe, Punong Barangay of Centro (Agdao), acknowledges that unidentified assailants can be hired killers, though he could not say it was the DDS. He does not, however, rule out the possibility that they are vigilantes.”
List of targets?
Yet even as the CHR hearings in 2009 secured mostly qualified statements on the existence of the DDS, a majority of those who testified also confirmed the existence of “lists containing the names of confirmed or suspected criminals at the barangay level.” Many of those who landed on such lists eventually turned up on the lists of those felled allegedly by the DDS and vigilantes.
But who was putting the lists together and who was supplying the names? The CHR admitted that “(the) source of such lists… is not clear” even as it said that those interviewed by Human Rights Watch pointed to “police and barangay officials [collecting] the names of drug users, people with a criminal record, and the like… as well as an ‘order of battle’ from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).”
The CHR also said that then Davao City Administrator Wendel E. Avisado “confirms that the barangay chairpersons have lists, but only because parents of minors involved in petty crimes allegedly report their own children.”
According to CHR, it was told by a barangay official that “members of the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO)” of his barangay “give information as intelligence or are used as intelligence, and acknowledges that there is a list drawn up of students involved in drug use or drug-related activities, which is given to the PNP.”
Noel Sandoval, CVO chief in Barangay Buhangin Proper, meanwhile told the CHR that “the lists of children who are problematic, meant to identify those whom the Barangay should set up programs for, are drawn up not by CVOs but by ‘higher ups’.
But, the CHR said, “the vast majority of barangay officials, it seems, get their lists from the PDEA.” They included “Edgar Ibuyan, Jr., Punong Barangay of Bankerohan; Paolo Duterte, Punong Barangay of Catalunan Grande, on whose list of 12 one was killed; Robert Olanolan, Punong Barangay of 76-A Bucana, who knows of only one on his list who was killed; and Fulgencio Pavo, Punong Barangay of Kapitan Tomas Monteverde, who claims he uses his PDEA list to work on case build-up, though some people on his list were also killed.”
The CHR resolution said at least two Davao City police officers — SPO1 Vivencio Jumawan Jr. and P/Chief Insp. Joe Neil Estenzo Rojo — had separately confirmed the existence of such lists, with the former affirming that “some on the list were killed.”
The CHR also said that at one of the public inquiries it conducted, “P/Supt. Glenn De La Torre, Regional Director for the PDEA in Region XI, explained that there are no big-time drug syndicates in Davao City, only street-level pushers.”
But, it said, de la Torre “also volunteered that he had a list of 43 suspects in drug-related offenses, (18 of which were in Davao City), and all 43 of whom were killed.” De la Torre, the CHR added, “also denies that PDEA had a hand in the deaths.”
‘Culture of impunity’
Through it all, the CHR’s 2012 resolution affirmed the existence of the DDS: “In light of the foregoing, the Commission concludes that in the period of 2005-2009, 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.”
“These killings,” the CHR said, “were selective: the victim was usually involved or suspected to have been involved in some type of illegal activity. The manner of killing was also distinct: the assailants were usually motorcycle-riding gunmen.”
Moreover, the CHR said that “although there is dearth of evidence to support a finding of direct complicity on the part of the local police or local government officials, the Commission notes that there has been a systematic failure on the part of such local officials to conduct any meaningful investigation into said killings.”
Beyond the period from 2005 to 2008 that de Lima’s CHR inquiry covered, Rosales’s CHR noted that the killings continued well into the next year. “In the brief period between January and August of 2009, there were 122 killings, of which only 30 were allegedly solved, making for a ‘success’ rate of 24.59% and leaving 75.04% of cases unsolved.”
According to the CHR resolution, “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.” — With additional research by Nancy C. Carvajal and Davinci Maru, PCIJ, March 2017