MANILA – Human Rights Watch (HRW) is welcoming the filing of murder charges against alleged members and leaders of the so-called Tagum Death Squad.
Rey T. Uy, former mayor of Tagum City, and 31 others being linked to the death squad were charged before the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday for the murders of several individuals in Tagum City, Butuan City, and Compostela Valley.
HRW's Phelim Kine said the filing of the murder charges is long overdue, noting that the government-backed group was behind the murders of at least 80 people.
''The allegations against Uy, announced March 4, won’t come as a surprise to his former constituents,'' Kine said.
''Uy’s prosecution also marks a welcome shift from President Benigno Aquino III’s previous failure to tackle death squad killings in places like Davao City and Cebu City and his tolerance for local anti-crime campaigns that promote or encourage extrajudicial means to rid city streets of 'undesirables.'''
The National Bureau of Investigation said the death squad was created allegedly to rid Tagum City of what then Mayor Uy frequently referred to as 'weeds' such as thieves, snatchers. drug pushers, etc.
Uy allegedly provided payment and equipment for the operations, using the city government's civil security unit as cover to lawfully issue guns and motorcycles used in the killings.
Later on, however, the squad was used for contract killings to eliminate business competitors, enemies, and even police officers, who were threats to them or going against their interest, with the approval of Mayor Uy.
HRW said one of the death squad's victim was 9-year-old Jenny Boy “Kokey” Lagulos, who local residents found dead on a Tagum City side street on April 12, 2011.
It said the government has more to do in terms of eradicating extrajudicial killings, noting that the creation in 2012 of a so-called superbody to expedite the investigation and prosecution of cases of extrajudicial killings has remained largely inactive even as new cases are reported by Philippine human rights groups.
''Aquino has a great opportunity to demonstrate that Rey Uy’s prosecution marks the beginning of sustained government action against extrajudicial killings, rather than the exception to the rule,'' Kine said.