Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Philippine President backing probe of extrajudicial killings in Davao

Palace backs CHR probe
Reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang Monday vowed full support for the Commission on Human Rights in its effort to end the vigilante-style killings in Davao City, and prosecute those behind them.

It said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had instructed both the military and the police in the province to support the CHR investigation.

“We’re totally committed that we will be supporting the CHR in its pursuit of identifying those behind some 800 killings in Davao,” Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson, said in a media briefing.

In a radio interview, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Ms Arroyo had ordered the Armed Forces to “cooperate with any or all investigations to be conducted by the Commission on Human Rights.”

Remonde said the commission could also expect the government’s cooperation in its investigation into the killing of Rebelyn Pitao, daughter of communist New People’s Army commander Leoncio Pitao.

Whether a Davao Death Squad really exists, there is no denying that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been remiss in his duties, Speaker Prospero Nograles said.

Nograles, who also hails from Davao City and known to be an archrival of the mayor, said the reported existence of such a group was “an indication of lawlessness and of (the mayor’s) insensitivity to the call of the people.”


CHR chief slams Davao City gov’t
Hits failure of city to stop vigilante killings
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairman Leila de Lima hit hard against the Davao City local government for its failure to stop the vigilante-style executions in the city.

De Lima said this "brand of criminality" was no different from the extrajudicial killings that gripped the country under the Arroyo administration.

"How different... is vigilantism from extralegal killings? It isn't," De Lima said in her opening remarks at the opening of the two-day public inquiry into the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) by the CHR en banc at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City.

In attendance was Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, known for his hard-line stance and provocative statements against criminals.

De Lima's speech was emailed by the CHR office to Manila-based reporters.

De Lima pointed out that extra-judicial killings have been defined by the Supreme Court as killings done "outside of regular judicial proceedings."

She said that since the death penalty has been abolished, there was no way that there could be any state-sanctioned executions.

"Finer definitions include the element of governmental policy at any level aimed at eliminating certain individuals as opposed to arresting them, and commission of killings by the state or unit of the state or condoning the same, with the act being deliberate," De Lima said.

She added: "You have watched how the various segments of society have banded together to find a way to solve activist and media killings... You have all seen the consensus of the Filipino people against extralegal killings, against executions."

De Lima said the CHR might have been branded as a "toothless tiger," but it was ready to use all its persuasive powers to find answers as to why the killings went unabated and the culture of impunity persisted.

Its commitment, she said, would be the same as its efforts in looking into the killings of activists and journalists.

"More than the statistics, and more than putting an end to vigilante killings, this probe seeks to save the psyche of the Davaoeños – to remove this terrible stigma over their city, to lift the fear for their own rights and for their own lives. We seek to instill the assurance that when you commit a wrong, you will be deprived of your liberty by a court of law, not deprived of your life by gun-toting scalawags," she said.

De Lima scored the Davao City local government for taking pride in the city's peace and order when killings occurred almost on a daily basis.

"If it were so peaceful and orderly, had it not occurred to anyone how paradoxical it is to make such a claim while killings remain rampant? It is completely incongruous to say it is peaceful and orderly when vigilantism is so commonplace, so pedestrian, it is almost a way of life around here," de Lima said.

She added: "I dare say, and warn everyone who wishes to visit this city, that peace and order is not a quality of Davao City."

De Lima also said that the police, prosecutors, and local government officials in Davao City could not admit ineptitude "since all of them openly announce how peaceful and orderly the city is."

"So if it is not ineptitude, what then accounts for the predominantly unsolved vigilante-style killings in this city? We need to know. We must know. You must tell us," she added.

The CHR's investigation into the DDS was the first conducted by any government agency since the first mysterious deaths attributed to the vigilante group in 1998.

She also urged Davaoenos who oppose the summary executions to speak out against "the dreadful specter of the Davao Death Squad... and be part of the solution of human rights protection."


CHR probes 800 kills by Davao death squad
De Lima airs concern over public acceptance
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With reports from Inquirer Mindanao and Inquirer Research

MANILA, Philippines—The killings have gone on for too long and it’s time to hold those responsible to account.

With this message, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila de Lima is set to open on Monday a public inquiry into a wave of unexplained killings of more than 800 people in Davao City since 1998.

Many of the victims were people purportedly with criminal records, giving rise to suspicions that the killings were the work of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS), a shadowy vigilante group.

For De Lima, what is “most alarming … is the growing culture or mentality of public acceptance of the executions.”

“This is worse than apathy and indifference,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview before she left for Davao City, noting that the killings had been justified as one way of making the place crime-free.

De Lima said she had also received several e-mail letters from abroad raising concern about the unabated killings in the country’s largest city.

“Local authorities have the duty to protect society from killings like that. They should find out who the perpetrators are, prosecute and punish them,” De Lima said.

Inexplicable killings

A total of 814 deaths have been attributed to vigilante strikes since 1998. The victims included 73 children.

In February alone, 33 killings occurred. A month before that, on Jan. 20, seven people were inexplicably shot, stabbed or found dead in different parts of the city.

Among the Jan. 20 victims was a tricycle driver allegedly involved in a money scam and in illegal drugs. He was shot dead by two men on a motorbike.

That same day, a carpenter and another tricycle driver were found stabbed dead in a cemetery, a matchbox of dried marijuana leaves found on the carpenter’s body and sticks of marijuana leaves on the other body.

A few days later, De Lima spoke in Davao and mentioned the DDS.

“I noticed the audience were looking at each other. During lunch break, two judges approached me and said there were hardly any cases filed with them because there were no witnesses and the investigations did not progress. They are also worried that people seem to accept or like the situation,” she said.

Hired killers

De Lima said the CHR inquiry would attempt to find out the truth about the existence of the death squad and the possible liability of local officials for failing to stop the killings.

“There is still a factual issue if the DDS really exists. Some say it’s a media creation. Others say it’s real, that there is such a group of hired killers. I am inclined to believe that there is such a group because how can we have cases of mysterious, almost serial, killings,” she said.

The CHR regional office has listed more than 300 summary killings from 2005 to January 2009, but De Lima said it was being “validated” if they were indeed carried out by the death squad.

De Lima said Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had pledged to cooperate in the inquiry.

She said Duterte, once President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s consultant on peace and order, and the local government as a whole might be asked why the killings had gone unabated for 11 years.

Disturbing statements

De Lima noted that Duterte himself was known to have issued “disturbing statements” that appeared to tolerate, if not entirely sanction, the killings.

In a multisectoral meeting in Davao City last February, Duterte said he would not be involved in any extrajudicial killings but stressed that when he was voted mayor, his promise to the people was to restore peace and order in the city.

In that meeting, Duterte also said: “What I want is to instill fear … If it will send the wrong signals, then I am sorry. But what wrong did I commit?”

He went on: “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.”

At the slightest show of resistance, Duterte also said he would order the police to “shoot you and aim for your head to make sure that you are dead.”

Gang wars blamed

Duterte has denied that the government was behind the group and denied its existence, blaming the killings on gang wars, rivalries in the illegal drugs trade and personal grudges.

In a letter to the Inquirer earlier this month, De Lima said the aims of the inquiry were to determine the extent of human rights violations, examine the causes of the killings and study measures to address them, and seek the support of government agencies and civil society groups in order to expedite an investigation.

On Tuesday, the CHR is expected to conduct consultations with nongovernment organizations (NGOs), the Church, the academe, and the local media.

Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa is expected to attend the inquiry. For the CHR and local human rights groups, it remains a big question why the local PNP has failed to stop the killings.

Local and international human rights organizations have raised concern that some of the victims were not only minors but without any criminal record as well. Others were victims of mistaken identity, it is claimed.

Copycat executions

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is among the organizations that have prodded the CHR to investigate the killings—said to be the first by any governmental institution or agency since the killings started in 1998.

The AHRC has expressed fear the vigilante-style killings have spilled over to Davao’s neighboring cities.

Danilo Reyes, head of the group’s Philippine desk, told the Inquirer by phone that murders similar to the Davao executions were recently recorded in the cities of Tagum and General Santos and that the “targets” had not been limited to criminals.

An Inquirer source said the DDS was composed mostly of former communist rebels. A DDS assassin, in an interview several years ago, refused to say who was behind the group.

When it started operating in the 1990s, the DDS used motorcycles as mode of transport and firearms in killing their victims. In the past few years, the killings were done by stabbing, apparently to prevent innocents from getting hit by stray bullets.

There were cases in which the victims, previously arrested for petty crimes, were killed minutes after their release from jail. There were also cases when the killings were done days after a gruesome crime had occurred in the city.

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