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Death squad 'behind hundreds of murders' in Mindanao

Shocking new report from Human Rights Watch

ucanews.com reporter, Manila

ucanews.com reporter, Manila

Updated: May 20, 2014 10:29 PM GMT
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Death squad 'behind hundreds of murders' in Mindanao

Human rights activists call for an end to extrajudicial killings in the country. (Photo courtesy of Bulatlat)

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A "death squad" was behind hundreds of killings in recent years in the southern Phillipine city of Tagum on Mindanao, Human Rights Watch says.

In a report released in Manila on Wednesday, the international rights group said it obtained police records that show the Tagum death squad committed 298 killings between January 2007 and March 2013.

"The Tagum death squad's activities imposed a fear-enforced silence in Tagum City that allowed the killers and their bosses to literally get away with murder," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, during a press briefing in Manila.

No one has been prosecuted for the killings, Kine said.

The rights group said local government officials, including Tagum City's former mayor, Rey "Chiong" Uy, and police officers were behind the killings of suspected drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children.

Human Rights Watch said Uy even branded the suspected criminals "weeds" that must be uprooted and killed.

Kine said city officials and police officers "underwrote targeted killings as a perverse form of crime control".

The Human Rights Watch report said that since 1998, when Uy was first elected mayor, he, his aides and city police officers "hired, equipped, and paid for an operation that at its height consisted of 14 hit men and accomplices".

Kine said the report was based on interviews with more than three dozen people, including surviving victims and their families, witnesses to killings, police officers, and former death squad members, who said those who refused to carry out orders were themselves targets.

Former death squad members told Human Rights Watch that they would inform local police via text message of an impending targeted killing, so the police would not interfere. After the killing, the police in turn would notify them if any witnesses had identified them.

The death squad drew its targets from the "order of battle", a list of names coming from various sources, including local community leaders, neighborhood watchmen, and police intelligence officers. 

Former death squad members told Human Rights Watch that the unit was paid $110 for every killing, which the members would divide among themselves. 

Local and national authorities have failed to seriously investigate the vast majority of Tagum City’s killings, Human Rights Watch said. 

While police routinely cite a lack of witnesses to explain the absence of prosecutions, victims’ relatives and witnesses said they fear testifying, largely due to the perceived links of the death squad to local officials.

Human Rights Watch said President Benigno Aquino has "largely ignored" extrajudicial killings by death squads. 

Asked for a reaction to the report, presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr told ucanews.com that the presidential palace is still verifying the report with the government's Commission on Human Rights.

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