First of two parts
Traditionally, it was the petty criminals who fall in the hands of the so-called “Davao Death Squad,” a vigilante-style motorcycle-riding group that is believed to have been organized in the mid-90s to cleanse the city of crime.
The typical victims are young men—sometimes boys as young as 14—who are known to be involved in petty crimes such as stealing of cell phones, selling and using drugs on a small scale, or membership in gangs. They are either gunned down or stabbed to death.
Recent cases show that it’s not anymore just the alleged criminals who may be targeted, however. The killings have become free for all.
A newly released 103-page report, You Can Die Anytime, by the New York-based international group Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded the following: that the killings are not due to gang wars and that the death squad members are targeting even non-petty criminals.
It raised the risk that group members are already moonlighting as “guns-for-hire” in exchange for a payment of as low as P5,000.
HRW drew these conclusions based on its study of 28 cases of summary executions in Mindanao and interviews with the witnesses of the killings, families of victims, supposed death squad insiders, and local government officials.
It is so far the most comprehensive report on spate of summary executions in Davao City and the “copy cat” death squads that Davao Death Squad supposed to have inspired in nearby cities.
HRW called for the immediate action of national and local governments.
Not gang wars
The report belies the claim of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and other local government officials that the killings may be due to gang wars. Davao Death Squad exists and it is a structured organization of about 500 members, the report said.
“Death squads exist inspite of the denials. This report should lay to rest the myth that somehow the killings are committed by gang wars. Nobody can credibly deny the existence of a death squad,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in a press conference in Manila on Tuesday.
He called on President Arroyo and Duterte to dismantle the death squads.
Roth said there might be several death squads operating, but he said it’s clear that they are linked and there is a common authority controlling them.
He said HRW has evidence that low-level policemen are involved and even serve as the “handlers” of some death squad members.
The group is said to have its own training compound, where new recruits are trained to kill.
Everybody a target
The report shows that while petty criminals are still the main targets, news of mistaken identities has been rising and death squad members themselves have been targeted.
It may as well serve as a warning to the sympathizers and financial backers of death squads because it shows they can be targets themselves.
Because of the sympathizers’ silence, there is a perception that residents and businessmen in Davao City are supportive of the so-called mission of Davao Death Squad to eliminate criminality in the city.
But the report tells how Jaypee Larosa, 20, was shot six times in July last year in front of an Internet café, where he hung out, because of mistaken identity. After he was shot, a witness testified that one of the death squad members removed Larosa’s baseball cap and said, “[Curse.] This is not the one!”
Larosa’s family believes he was mistaken for another person, who was a suspect in a neighborhood robbery where they used to live.
The report also shows how a mother, Clarita Alia of Bankerohan area in Davao City, can lose four of his children--one by one from 2001 to 2007--to the death squads because of their alleged petty crimes.
Clarita lost Richard, 18, in July 2001. Three months later, she lost Christopher, 17, who she said was mistaken as her eldest son Arnold, who was apparently a target.
Two years later, his son Bobby, 14, was killed and then in April 2007, Fernando, 15.
Shortly after Christopher's death, Clarita filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights. But that did not give her any justice or prevented the death of her two sons.
Local group Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) documented a total of 671 cases of summary killings in Davao City from 1998 to May 2008.
Only four in every ten victims are known to be petty criminals.
“Death squad members also have been victims of death squad killings, possibly because they “knew too much,” failed to perform their tasks, or became too exposed.
The report also said some Davao City residents also expressed the belief that some death squad members have become guns-for hire.”
Although the HRW was unable to document a case where a death squad member moonlighted to become a gun-for-hire, the group was able to talk to a rightist activist who is convinced that the death squads have expanded their operations to this activity.
“It costs only P5,000 to hire an assassin. If you owe more than P5,000 to someone, would you pay back, or would you hire a killer to take care of the lender? If you have a dispute, it’s so easy and cheap to eliminate the other,” HRW quoted one rightist activist.
It is consistent with the minimum payment that other witnesses said the death squad members are paid for every “successful” operation or a hit.
The going rate ranges from a low of P5,000, if the target is a small fish, to a high of P100,000, if the target is a big fish.
Cut the funds
The report also calls for the audit of the city government's Peace and Order Fund, which some witnesses believed to be the source of funding for the Davao Death Squad.
The Peace and Order Fund, which amounts to P450 million for Davao City, is intended to finance counter-insurgency and anti-crime programs.
It also called on the country’s major donors—the US and Japan governments, the European Union, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank—to pressure the Philippines to protect human rights and end the spate summary executions.
Part Two: Ex-NPAs training Davao assassins