MANILA – A human rights group is calling for an investigation over Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's links to the infamous ''Davao Death Squad."
Human Rights Watch said Duterte, who is known for his hardline stance against criminality, has continued to espouse the killing of criminal suspects in his effort to combat crimes in his city.
HRW said about 1,000 death squad killings have been reported in the city since the late 1990s. Duterte first became mayor of Davao City in 1988.
''The Philippine government should take a zero-tolerance approach to any public official who publicly endorses extrajudicial killings as an acceptable means of crime control,'' said Phelim Kine, HRW deputy Asia director.
''Duterte’s public support for the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals should prompt a long overdue investigation into Duterte’s possible role in those deaths."
HRW said Duterte made no attempt to conceal his style in combating crimes when, in a speaking tour speech last week, he said, ''We're the ninth safest city. How do you think I did it? How did I reach that title among the world’s safest cities? Kill them all [criminals].''
HRW said Duterte in the past has also issued statements that seem to reinforce the allegations that he is behind the death squad killings.
Citing a United States State Department cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011, HRW said Duterte's alleged brand of justice, which has gone tolerated, seemed to have encouraged government-sanctioned death squads in other places like Cebu City, Toledo, and Carcar.
"The long official tolerance of Duterte’s advocacy of summary killings as effective crime-fighting strategy needs to stop,'' Kine said.
''The government should send an unambiguous message to Duterte and other officials that support for extrajudicial killings results in an investigation – not in speaking tours.''
Duterte, who has been on a speaking tour to promote Philippines' shift to federalism, emerged as the third most preferred possible presidential candidate in the latest Social Weather Stations survey.
The Davao City mayor has not yet decided whether he will run in 2016.
HRW said Duterte has so far escaped responsibility for the death squad killings.
''The Ombudsman has not investigated Duterte for his role in the Davao death squad. Neither has the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which is under the Office of the President and has administrative and supervisory control over municipal governments,'' it said.
''The National Bureau of Investigation, which is under the Department of Justice, has likewise failed to probe Duterte’s alleged links to the Davao death squad."
HRW noted that the Commission on Human Rights investigated Duterte's links to the death squad in 2012 and recommended that murder charges be filed against him.
''But the Ombudsman limited its investigation to the police officers implicated in the killings – not Duterte himself – finding 21 of them guilty of 'simple neglect of duty,' and fining them the equivalent of a month's salary,'' HRW said.
The case against the policemen did not flourish, however, as the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, saying the Ombudsman merely used statistics against the police officers.
''To date, not one person has been convicted for involvement in any of the killings,'' HRW said.
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