Top national and local government executives remain in denial over summary executions perpetrated by the alleged Davao Death Squads, the chief of the Commission on Human Rights said Friday.
CHR Chairwoman Leila de Lima said the vigilante-style murders of alleged criminals, drug dealers and even streetchildren in Davao City is a rights issue that should be examined by the country's highest governing bodies. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report earlier recorded 124 vigilante-style killings in Davao last year with an additional 33 killings reported in January 2009.
“Apparently, concerned officials are still in the state of denial on what’s really happening in Davao. It is of course understandable at this point. For one, the ‘goings on’ there is already a `public knowledge’ especially to the residents. But who is brave enough to expose himself knowing that his and his family’s life is on the line?" she said during a briefing of an inter-agency group formed to investigate the killings.
De Lima said the idea of forming DDS Task Force came from Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa when he appeared in the first of the CHR public hearings in Davao City last March.
Presided by De Lima herself, the DDS Task Force includes representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), Department of National Defense (DND), Human Rights Affairs Office of both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
De Lima said the CHR has achieved several breakthroughs after interviewing witnesses and informants in the last three public inquiries it conducted in Davao City. She said the commission will conduct two more public hearings in Davao City and a final one at the CHR Central Office before it issues a resolution on the murders,
“DDS is no laughing matter and we maintain that it exits. Our priority now is witness protection for those who have cooperated and still to cooperate,” she said.
A 103-page report, You Can Die Anytime, by the New York-based international group Human Rights Watch (HRW) earlier said the killings are not due to gang wars and that the death squad members are targeting even non-petty criminals.
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.