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Rights group backs 'death squad' probe

Ex-Davao mayor has said suspected criminals were legitimate targets for assassination

Commission on Human Rights chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales Commission on Human Rights chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales
  • ucanews.com reporters, Manila
  • Philippines
  • August 17, 2012
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New York-based Human Rights Watch today urged Philippine government action on hundreds of extra-judicial killings that took place in Davao City from 2005 to 2009.

On Wednesday, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) released a report verifying that 206 of 375 reported killings during that period were attributed to Mindanao's so-called Davao Death Squad. The victims were mostly young men and teenagers suspected of committing crimes.

CHR chairwoman, Loretta Ann Rosales, called for a close examination of local officials for their failure to stop the killings. The former mayor, and now vice mayor, Rodrigo Duterte has been known to declare publicly that he considered criminals to be "a legitimate target of assassination."

Both Rosales and Human Rights Watch have called for an in-depth probe into Duterte's long-alleged links with the Death Squad.

Rosales has also urged the National Bureau of Investigation to hold a “serious, impartial and effective investigation” of the killings.

As well as taking aim at officials, the CHR criticized the police for  “consistent failure” to properly investigate the killings. “Witnesses have said that police routinely arrived at the scene of a shooting long after the assailants left, even if the nearest police station was just minutes away. Instead of using forensic investigation techniques, they often pressured the families of victims to identify killers, putting them at grave risk."

In March, according to Human Rights Watch, the Office of the Ombudsman found 21 Davao City police officials and officers guilty of “simple neglect of duty” for failing to stop or solve the killings. Each was punished with a fine of one month’s salary.

The Ombudsman also set the death toll even higher than the CHR. It said that its investigation established that 720 people were summarily executed in Davao City between 2005 and 2008.

“The Davao Death Squad statement is an important opportunity for the Aquino administration to show it is serious about holding officials accountable for the worst abuses,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch has urged President Aquino to heed the Commission's recommendations and take the necessary steps.

Davao officials, meanwhile, dismissed the CHR findings, saying that political motives caused the resurrection of the issue, especially the accusations against Duterte.

In an interview with the Sun Star news agency, lawyer Alexis Lumbaton said: "The CHR conducted an investigation two years ago. It would have easily made a report and recommendation to the Ombudsman. Why do it again and waste money and resources? Or maybe they haven't caught something during that fishing expedition. That is harassment in the purest sense of the word.”

Col. Leopoldo Galon, a military spokesman, said the CHR does not have the right to ask the Ombudsman to investigate Duterte unless it releases the result of the previous investigation, which was led by Leila de Lima, who was CHR chairwoman and is now secretary of justice.

"The CHR, with then Commissioner de Lima, did a well-publicized investigation which cost taxpayer's money," Galon said. "Have they made the report public? No. Release that report first. Only then will they have the moral ascendancy to ask another government agency to probe the alleged summary killings."

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