POSTSCRIPT / May 5, 2016 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Davao death squad to go national, if…?

AS WE marked World Press Freedom Day the other day, we recalled the execution of two Davao media men — among hundreds of unsolved cases that had placed the Philippines among the five worst countries in terms of impunity in the assassination of journalists.

The victims were Jun Pala and Ferdie “Batman” Limtungan. Pala was a radio commentator who spoke out against the Davao Death Squad and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. He accused the mayor of being behind two previous attempts on his life. On the third, motorcycle-riding men got him. Limtungan also denounced the DDS and alleged anomalies in a Duterte park project. He was similarly gunned down by motorcycle-riding men.

Seeing the swelling crowds cheering Duterte’s bloody campaign against criminals, we dug up reports on the mayor, a Davao executive for more than 22 years who is running for president in the May 9 elections.

We found a number of entries, one of which was a recent article titled “Davao Death Squad to go national,” by civic leader and lawyer Rodel E. Rodis based in the San Francisco Bay Area. (We borrowed his title – thank you!) He wrote:

“Diehard Duterte supporters appear willing to ignore disclosures that their beloved candidate, the front-runner in the presidential elections next week, has a P227-million account with the Bank of the Philippine Islands. They also seem just as willing to ignore his recent creepy confession that when he saw the lifeless body of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill in 1989, his first thought was outrage at the criminals not for her gang-rape and murder, but for not allowing him, as mayor, to be the first to rape her.

“Instead of revulsion, his supporters are also reveling at what Duterte has promised to do to all criminals. ‘Kill them all,’ he told his cheering supporters at a March 15 campaign rally in Lingayen, Pangasinan.

“‘When I become president, I’ll order the police and the military to find these people and kill them. The funeral parlors will be packed… I’ll supply the dead bodies.’

“Duterte has pledged to kill 100,000 criminals in his first six months in office and to dump so many of them in Manila Bay that, he says, the ‘fish will grow fat’.

Human Rights Watch documents cases

RODIS wrote on: “About seven years ago, I watched a Human Rights Watch video about the Davao Death Squad and I wrote about it then. Below are excerpts from my April 16, 2009, article:

“In its April 2009 issue, Human Rights Watch ( documented the summary killings in a paper titled ‘You Can Die Any Time, Death Squad Killings in Mindanao’. The group interviewed Clarita Alia, whose four sons were murdered. Alia said that in 2001, a senior police officer came to her home to arrest her oldest son (for allegedly sniffing ‘Rugby’ glue), but she demanded to see an arrest warrant before handing him over. The officer warned Alia: ‘Ok, you don’t want to give your child to me, then watch out because your sons will be killed, one by one!’

“Shortly after that threat, 18-year-old Richard Alia was stabbed to death in July of 2001, followed by 17-year-old Christopher Alia in October of 2001, Bobby Alia, 14, in November 2003, and Fernando Alia, 15, in April 2007. When the police officer made the threat in 2001, Clarita Alia said, ‘I was really shocked he mentioned my other sons as they were just little kids then, but he was very angry because I was pushing him out.’

Human Rights Watch also reported on the case of 20-year-old Jaypee Larosa who was walking to an Internet café when he was shot by three men in dark jackets riding a motorcycle. Witnesses reported that after the gunmen shot him, one of them removed Larosa’s baseball cap and said, ‘Son of a bitch, this is not the one!’ before leaving.

“Dozens of other family members have described the murder of their loved ones, all killed in similar fashion. Most victims are alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children, some members of street gangs. Impunity for such crimes is nearly total—few cases have been seriously investigated by the police, let alone prosecuted.”

Hit squads go after fry, not big fish

“IN A PRESS conference last April 24, Fr. Amado Picardal, former spokesman of the Coalition Against Summary Executions, said murders continue in Davao.

“Based on data provided by human rights monitoring groups, since 1998 until 2011, DDS has killed about 1,424 people, 1,367 male and 57 female. The DDS victims list include 132 children—126 boys and six girls. The youngest were a 12-year-old-boy and a 15-year-old girl.

“Almost 50 percent of the victims were children and young adults killed in urban poor areas, Fr. Picardal reports. ‘Most of them were involved in illegal drugs – as users and pushers. There were also those involved in petty crimes – theft, cell-phone snatching, gang members. There were 14 cases of mistaken identity – they were not the intended targets.’

“It is also interesting that although Duterte has promised to go after drug lords, not one drug lord was ever killed by his DDS. They have only gone after the poor drug users and pushers who may deserve to be arrested and jailed, but not summarily executed.”

“Why hasn’t his DDS killed any of the rich, well connected criminals, and corrupt judges he rails against? Why kill only the poor?

“According to Fr. Picardal, ‘most members of the DDS are either former New People’s Army insurgents who had surrendered or young men who themselves were death squad targets and joined the group to avoid being killed. Most can make far more money with the DDS than in other available occupations.’

“’Their handlers, called amo (boss), are usually police officers or ex-officers. They provide them with training, weapons and ammunition, motorcycles, and information on the targets. Death squad members often use .45-caliber handguns, a weapon commonly used by the police but prohibitively expensive for gang members and common criminals.’

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 5, 2016)

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