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WHAT WENT BEFORE: Davao Death Squad

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WHAT WENT BEFORE: Davao Death Squad

/ 03:12 AM April 22, 2016

From 1998 to 2015, the number of victims of “summary executions” in Davao City reached 1,424, according to a report of a human rights monitoring group.

The report—which was based on news clippings and was made available to the Inquirer—said the youngest victim was only 12 years old while the youngest female victim was 15 years old. At least 14 of the killings, according to the report, were cases of mistaken identity.

Because most of the victims had criminal records, the murders were blamed on a vigilante group, known as the Davao Death Squad.

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In the late 1990s, the killers rode on motorcycles and gunned down their victims, most of whom were suspected to be gangsters and illegal drug peddlers. In recent years, the killings were done by stabbing.

Some victims were murdered just minutes after their release from prison, while others were executed days after a crime had been committed. In some cases, the death squad warned the families of the victims.

Between July 2001 and November 2002, Clarita Alia, who worked long days hauling vegetables from wholesalers to retailers in a wooden cart, lost three sons—two of them minors—who had run-ins with the law, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported in December 2002.

Richard Alia spent two months in jail for stabbing a minor. Christopher Alia was jailed for sniffing rugby. Bobby had also been jailed, for illegal possession of a deadly weapon. When they were knifed to death, Richard, Christopher and Bobby were 18, 16 and 14 years old, respectively.

 ‘No tears for them’

In September 2001, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte described the killings as unlawful. At the same time, however, he made it  clear that he was hardly sorry they were happening.

“I do not have any tears for you if you die, you idiots!” he said, referring to drug pushers. “You all deserve to die.”

In October 2001, a peace rally by militant and civil society groups for an awareness campaign of the killings of youths in Davao was marred by violence when gunmen shot dead two minors on one of the streets that the demonstrators were going to take. The boys had been suspected snatchers.

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In March 2002, Duterte declared war against teenage gangs, which local police said were responsible for most of the crimes committed in the city. “If they offer resistance,” the mayor told reporters, “I will not hesitate to kill them. I don’t care about minors.”

The death squad was also believed to have been behind the killing of hard-hitting journalist Jun Pala in September 2003. Pala was a critic of Duterte.

In 2009, Duterte found himself in the middle of a Commission on Human Rights (CHR) inquiry into the spate of vigilante-style killings in his city.

Duterte was the Davao City congressman when the killings started in 1998. He was elected mayor in 2001 and reelected to the post in 2004 and 2007.

Legitimate target

“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,” Duterte was quoted as saying at the height of the controversy.

But Duterte denied that a death squad was operating in the city and blamed the killings on gang wars, rivalries in the illegal drugs trade and personal grudges.

The CHR investigation resulted in the implication of policemen in the killings. Duterte was not charged and 21 police officers were found guilty by the Ombudsman only of simple neglect of duty. They were fined the equivalent of a month’s salary.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its 2009 report “You Can Die Anytime: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao,” said that Duterte’s “open endorsement of summary killings to fight criminals and his soaring popularity had encouraged other cities.”

Crime control

The rights group said “reports of similar killings in other Philippine cities suggest that the Davao Death Squad … has motivated other town officials to adopt extrajudicial killings as a crime control method.”

HRW said it had documented the existence of the Davao Death Squad and Duterte’s role in the killings as early as 2009,  but Duterte has never been charged.

The report, which can be downloaded from the HRW website, also said that the killers’ handlers, “called amo (boss), are usually police officers or former policemen. They provide them with training, weapons and ammunition, motorcycles and information on the targets.”

In May 2015, Duterte asked on his weekly television program “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa, “Am I the death squad?” He answered his own question: “True. That is true.”

But Duterte explained that the “admission” was meant to challenge human rights organizations to go to Davao City and pursue their allegations that he was involved in the killings. Inquirer Research

Sources: Inquirer Archives

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