Malcañang denied that President Rodrigo Duterte is linked to the alleged Davao Death Squad (DDS) but confirmed the vigilante group is real.
“From my own investigation, while I confirm the existence of the Davao Death Squad, I found no evidence that then mayor Duterte Rodrigo Duterte was involved,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in an interview on ABS-CBN.
Roque also dismissed claims by self-confessed DDS members Arturo Lascañas and Edgar Matobato about Duterte supposedly ordering killings in Davao City.
“I knew about them even before. We went to the site where they allegedly buried bodies. We conducted a dig with Peruvian anthropologist Pablo Baraybar and we only found a skeleton of a dog,” Roque said.
The Palace official made the reaction in response to the International Criminal Court’s decision to look into killings in Davao from November 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016, the time when Duterte served both as mayor and vice mayor.
The Davao Death Squad is a controversial vigilante group in Davao City that allegedly conducted operations against drug suspects and other criminals.
President Duterte himself has confirmed the existence of a Davao death squad but noted the group was active during the martial law regime of President Marcos “to combat [New People’s Army] Sparrow units in Davao.”
The ICC pre-trial chamber claimed it saw links between the killings in Davao City before 2016 and the President’s nationwide war against illegal drugs.
The Palace insisted that the ICC’s investigation on the Duterte administration’s war on drugs was unlikely to move forward as the Philippines would not cooperate with them.
The International Criminal Court pre-trial earlier recommended the formal investigation on Duterte over his war on drugs program and his alleged link to extrajudicial killings carried out by the Davao Death Squad.
Prior to Duterte’s presidency in 2016, he was the mayor of Davao City from 1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010, and 2013 to 2016.
The ICC earlier said there was a “reasonable” basis to believe that “the crime against humanity of murder was committed from at least from July 2016 to 16 March 2019 in the context of the Philippine government’s war on drug’s campaign.”
Meanwhile, ICC retired judge Raul Cano Pangalangan said proceedings against Duterte could move up to the filing and confirmation of charges.
Pangalangan told ANC’s Headstart the ICC could bring witnesses to the Hague and conduct virtual testimonies
But if the accused “never gets into the custody of the court,” he stressed that the proceedings would stop.
“In the end, we still arrive at the same conclusion. Although the language is different for the two things -- duty to cooperate and power to adjudicate -- in the end both obligations will survive the withdrawal,” he said.
The Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC has formally authorized an official probe into alleged crimes against humanity in relation to President Duterte’s “war on drugs.”
The Hague-based tribunal said there was “reasonable basis” to proceed with the probe noting that “specific legal element of the crime against humanity of murder” has been met in the crackdown that left thousands dead.
The Palace has asserted several times that President Duterte would not participate in the ICC probe.
The 76-year-old Duterte has scorned the ICC’s prosecution team from the time it first began considering a possible investigation.
With the approval of the ICC to proceed with its investigation, Pangalangan said evidence against individuals would be collected.
“Assuming they now proceed with the investigation, this is the only time they will focus on individuals,” he said.