Tagum City ex-mayor charged in death-squad slays
It looks like the long arm of the law has finally caught up with a hit squad that drew international attention last year for its execution of “weeds” in their city.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Thursday filed in the Department of Justice (DOJ) multiple murder and frustrated murder charges against former Tagum City Mayor Rey “Chiong” Uy and his alleged army of assassins in the so-called Tagum Death Squad (TDS) for 82 extrajudicial killings and two murder attempts in the city; the town of Dujali, Davao del Norte; Maco and Wahab in Compostela Valley; and Butuan City.
The complaints were based on testimonies of two self-confessed hitmen—former New People’s Army member Romnick Minta and Jomari Abayon—who were involved in the killings either individually or together, and complaints by relatives who lost loved ones to the squad.
The charges cover less than a third of the extrajudicial killings the international organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) attributed to the TDS in a 71-page report in May last year, where it called for immediate government action.
Citing information from police and interviews with confessed gunmen, HRW said the TDS was responsible for up to 298 killings from January 2007 to March 2013.
In a 30-page complaint the NBI filed in the DOJ yesterday, NBI Director Virgilio Mendez recommended the prosecution of Uy and 29 others, including retired and current police officers, ex-convicts, gangsters and ex-communist rebels hired as assassins, and former local officials who ordered hits on certain individuals.
Those charged are facing preliminary investigation at the DOJ.
Among them are retired Police Supt. Abraham Katre, the head of the Civil Security Unit that served as the “cover” and as a funding and firearms source for the TDS; and Conrado “Rading” Palen, Victor “Kulot” Cuaresma and SPO1 Rolly Sabitsana, three alleged “handlers” of the TDS hitmen.
“Uy personally ordered the killings/liquidations of six of the 84 victims in the presence of Palen, Cuaresma, Sabitsana and Katre… Some of the allegations of the complainants … are likewise worth noting, as they will further establish the involvement of former Mayor Rey Uy [in] the killings,” said the NBI.
Abayon and Minta were also charged with involvement in the slayings.
Abayon was contracted to kill Minta and his brother Mario on Sept. 8, 2012, allegedly on orders of the former mayor and his handlers. But Minta survived and is now also a complainant against Abayon for frustrated murder.
Describing the death squad, the NBI said the TDS was “created allegedly to rid Tagum City of what Mayor Uy frequently referred to as ‘weeds’ such as thieves, snatchers, drug pushers, etc.”
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