The killings started in Davao

posted October 19, 2021 at 12:10 am
by  Tony La Viña
"DDS used to mean something else — not Diehard Duterte Supporters."

 

In this seventh of my series on the potential ICC case against President Duterte and other officials, I focus exclusively on the Chamber’s discussion on the aggregate number and geographic distribution of killings, including the statistics on the number of fatalities/victims in Davao City where President Rodrigo Duterte served as mayor for several terms.

Preliminarily, the Chamber, in its decision, articulates the limitations of its assessment, stating that the proceedings is still at a very preliminary stage, that the material available is of limited quality and that only a more detailed investigation will shed light on the number of persons killed within the so-called war on drugs campaign and the specific circumstances. As articulated, available materials and information are inadequate to arrive at a more complete picture of the situation on the ground because: (i) the estimates of the number of killed persons vary depending on the source, ranging from 12,000 to 30,000; (ii) the Philippine authorities themselves reported that at least 5,281 persons were killed during police-anti drug operations alone between July 2016 and March 2019;

At this juncture, let me point out that to date, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has granted the Department of Justice access to the records of 61 investigations against policemen out of the total of 7,884 deaths in official operations since 2016 in the official records.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency previously reported more than 6,100 drug crime suspects have been killed in police operations since Duterte took office as president. But this may be grossly underestimated because as ICC Prosecutor Fatua Bensouda mentioned in her Request for Investigation, “Police and other government officials planned, ordered, and sometimes directly perpetrated” killings outside official police operations. Independent researchers estimate the drug war’s death toll, including those extrajudicial killings, could be as high as 12,000 to 30,000.

Needless to say, the exact number of fatalities is difficult to ascertain and may never be known because the government has been most secretive on the matter and has failed to disclose official documents about the “drug war.” Worse, it has issued contradictory statistics and, in the case of these “homicides under investigation,” stopped releasing the figures altogether.

In the Davao area from 2011-2016 in particular, the Chamber, extensively citing the Prosecutor’s findings and observations, “accepts that the supporting material sufficiently indicates, at the present stage of the proceedings, the local police officers and vigilantes committed numerous killings of predominantly young men suspected of involvement in small-scale drug dealing or minor crimes such as petty theft and drug use. The Chamber also notes in particular the information to the effect that a so-called ‘Davao death squad’ operated, and that local law enforcement units were heavily involved in its operation. There is information that in 2011-2015 there were around 385 victims of extrajudicial killings in Davao.”  

It must be remembered that Edgar Matobato earlier in the term of Duterte testified before the Philippines Senate that he was part of a hit squad that operated on Duterte’s orders. Matobato was a self-confessed assassin who testified in September of 2016 on his experiences and even revealed names of policemen he worked with in the past. Another witness presented before the Senate hearing, retired police officer Arturo Lascańas also admitted to have killed 300 people, about 200 as a member of a hit squad that terrorized Davao City at the behest of then Mayor Duterte. Despite the damning testimonies of the two witnesses, the Senate concluded after its inquiries that no proof existed that the “Davao death squad” existed.

In view of the above considerations, the Chamber likewise finds that “it has been sufficiently established, for the purpose of an authorisation to investigate, that the specific legal element of the crime against humanity of murder under Article 7(1)(a) of the Statute has been met with respect to the killings committed throughout the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign, as well as with respect to the killings in the Davao area between 1 November 2011 and 30 June 2016.”

With respect to the Prosecutor submissions that ‘several of the incidents […] appear to have included severe beatings or other mistreatment of victims prior to the killings, as well as instances in which victims’ family members were forced to witness the killings’, and that these facts ‘may constitute additional Crimes Against Humanity of Torture or Other Inhumane Acts under articles 7(1)(f) and (k) of the Statute’143, the Chamber is of the view that, “unlike for the crime against humanity of murder, the Chamber notes in agreement with the Prosecutor, that the latter “does not affirmatively allege that these crimes are established to the standard requisite at this stage.” As such, according to the Chamber, the issue is one of scope of the authorised investigation.

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Topics: Tony La Viña , ICC , President Rodrigo Duterte , Davao City

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