Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s recent admission that he has “ties” with the dreaded Davao Death Squad is old news. Those who know about the killings perpetrated by the death squads also know that somehow, the death squads operate with permission, if not upon orders of the mayor. If at all, his latest admission is warning to one and all about what he intends to do if elected into higher office. To quote the Mayor; “the 1000 (recorded killings) will become 100,000. You will see bigger fish in Manila Bay because it is there where I will dump their bodies.”
In fact, no one should be surprised with the mayor’s recent statements. The real question is why the PNoy administration, including Secretary De Lima, has, to date, done nothing to investigate, prosecute and punish members of the Davao Death Squad, including the mayor.
As early as 2009 Philip Alston, the then-UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-legal Killings, has called the attention of the country to the malaise of the Davao Death Squad: “the vigilante-style executions that took place almost every day in Davao City was the most troubling development in the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the last two years…Reliable information indicates that, in 2008, such killings were almost a daily occurrence in Davao City, jumping from a reported 116 in 2007 to 269 in 2008.
Alston called on the National Police Commission to “withdraw” Duterte’s supervisory powers over the police. He further suggested that the system of having a “watch list” of petty criminals in Davao, the basis apparently for determining whom to kill, should be abolished; and that an independent investigation into the killings should be conducted.
Commenting on Duterte specifically, Alston stated: “Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has done nothing to prevent these killings”. He noted how Duterte’s public statements suggested “he is, in fact, supportive.” Specifically, Alston cited how Mayor Duterte responded to the reported release of a big-time drug lord in Manila. Alston quoted the mayor as saying: ‘Here in Davao, you can’t go out alive. You can go out, but inside a coffin. Is that what you call extra-judicial killing? Then I will just bring a drug lord to a judge and kill him there, that will no longer be extra-judicial’,”
“The Special Rapporteur is not aware of a single conviction for a death squad killing in Davao. As a result, death squad members operate with complete impunity. Killing for hire is on the rise as death squad members become bold enough to sell their services, and some reports indicate that a killing only costs about 5,000 pesos (about US$ 100),” Alston said.
He also observed, “Although killings take place in broad daylight, witnesses are not prepared to testify against the perpetrators.”
Alston also warned that the impunity “encouraged death squad killings to sprout up in other cities beyond Davao.” Alston stated: “since 2007, numerous patterns of death squad killings have been reported by media and civil society organizations in other cities in the region such as General Santos City, Digos City, and Tagum City, and even in Cebu, the Philippines’ second largest city.”
So why has the PNoy administration failed to act on the findings of Alston?
Clearly, the reason is that Aquino and his Secretary of Justice simply do not care. This is consistent with the reality that PNoy has not given any priority to the promotion and protection of human rights in the past five years of his administration. This is why I am absolutely disappointed at Leila De Lima. She was once Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and should have utilized the vast powers, personnel and resources of the Department of Justice to fulfill the state obligation to protect and promote the right to life. Instead, PNoy and De Lima opted to ignore the recommendations of Alston, specifically on the Davao death squad. It is the height of hypocrisy for De Lima to now belatedly say that Duterte should be held liable for the acts of the death squads. Why did she wait six years before she manifested a willingness to run after Duterte? And why only after the latter has expressed interest to be President?
International law provides that PNoy and his Secretary of Justice have had the obligation to investigate, punish and prosecute Duterte as soon as they obtained information that he may be in any way connected to the death squads. They have had this information since 2009 when Philip Alston said so. De Lima was then chairman of the CHR and did nothing. PNoy, on the other hand, since Day One of his administration, should have investigated Duterte for these killings, The fact that he failed to do so is a ground for him to incur criminal liability himself under the concept of Superior Responsibility – he knew that Duterte may have been involved, and he did nothing to investigate and prosecute him.
To run after Duterte in time for the 2016 elections adds ignominy to the President’s sin of omission. It also demeans the importance of human rights promotion and degrades it as yet another election issue. This is vintage PNoy.