Roque confirms Davao death squad exists but Duterte has no links

Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 20 2021 12:19 PM

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MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has no proven links to the alleged Davao Death Squad (DDS), his spokesperson Harry Roque said Monday. 

“From my own investigation, while I confirm the existence of the Davao Death Squad, I found no evidence that then-mayor Duterte Rodrigo Roa Duterte was involved," he said in an ANC interview. 

Roque made the comments when he was asked to react to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to look into killings in Davao from November 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016, when Duterte served both as mayor and vice mayor.

The Davao Death Squad is a controversial vigilante group in Davao City that allegedly conducted drug suspects and other criminals. 

A report of UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, based on his mission to the Philippines from February 12-21, 2007, earlier said that "(s)ince 1998, when civil society organizations began keeping careful records, over 500 people have been killed by the (Davao) death squad."

President Duterte himself has confirmed the existence of a Davao death squad but noted the group was active during the martial law regime of President Marcos "to combat [New People's Army] Sparrow units in Davao."

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In the interview, Roque said there were flaws in the testimonies of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato and retired SPO3 Arturo Lascañas, who have both claimed to be part of the DDS.

“You know I knew about them even before. And we went to the site where they allegedly buried mass bodies. We conducted a dig with Peruvian anthropologist Pablo Baraybar and we only found a skeleton of a dog,” he said.

Roque said that Duterte’s statements do not indicate that there is state policy promoting killings of drug suspects.

“No, because he (Duterte) has clarified his statement that he will back up the police only if what they do is legal,” he said.

“He has said it over and over again and that’s why you have to construe all his statements in their totality and you can come up with a conclusion: as a lawyer as a former prosecutor he has warned the policemen, he will back them up but only when their acts are legal.”

Asked who should be held responsible for killings under the drug war, Roque said, “The individuals who will use excessive force. They should be held liable.”

“And that’s what I’m telling everyone: file the cases, because unless you file and prosecute and prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the impunity will continue.”

Roque has said the Philippines will not cooperate with the ICC investigation on the alleged drug war killings in the country and the killings in Davao.

"Ang aking prediction po, matutulog lang po ‘yang kasong ‘yan dahil in the absence of cooperation, lalong-lalo na sa kapulisan, wala po talagang ebidensya na makakalap," he said.

A lawyer believes, however, that the International Criminal Court (ICC) can still gather evidence on the Philippines' war on drugs without setting foot in the country.

Former ICC judge Raul Cano Pangalangan has also said that the ICC’s proceedings can move up to the filing and confirmation of charges without presence of the accused.

--ANC, 20 September 2021