Investigate Duterte's role in death squads – HRW

Human Rights Watch says, 'The long official tolerance of Duterte’s advocacy of summary killings as effective crime-fighting strategy needs to stop'

Karlos Manlupig

4:50:39pm May 19, 2015

4:50:47pm May 19, 2015

RODY DUTERTE. The tough-talking Davao City mayor still leaves many guessing about whether or not he will run in 2016.

RODY DUTERTE. The tough-talking Davao City mayor still leaves many guessing about whether or not he will run in 2016.

MANILA, Philippines – “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,” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said on Tuesday, May 19.

Referring to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Kine said Duterte's public statements confirming that he is in favor of vigilantism is already enough basis for the government to start an investigation. 

“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,” Kine said. 

Duterte had been tagged as the country's "Punisher" and "Dirty Harry" for his unconventional leadership style in Davao. That same style gave rise to Duterte's alleged association with anti-crime and anti-drug vigilantes in the city. 

On Friday, May 15, Duterte spoke at the national gathering of Workplace Advocates on Safety in the Philippines explaining that Davao is the 9th safest city in the world because his approach to criminality involves killing them. 

"How did I reach that title among the world's safest cities? Kill them all," Duterte was reported as saying.

It was a statement that earned both the applause of the participants and the disapproval of the human rights group. 

Raising concern over thousands of killings attributed to the so-called Davao Death Squad since the late 1990s, HRW said Duterte should already be investigated for his "possible role" in these summary executions. 

The mayor, who is being egged by his supporters to run for president in 2016, is presently going around the country, and lately in Hong Kong, for a "listening tour". The engagements, which supposedly were part of a campaign for federalism, consistently transformed into a gathering of people and groups supporting his presidential candidacy.

Running or not?

Duterte denied he has plans on running for president on 2016 and even publicly threatened he would kill those who would continue to force him to run.

But latest presidential surveys indicate a potentially strong candidacy. In a March 2015 Social Weather Stations survey, Duterte showed a 10-point surge from his 5% top-of-mind rating in December 2014. An earlier Pulse Asia survey also captured Duterte's rise. (READ:Duterte is No. 3 in presidential preference poll)

The Davao City mayor earlier said he would pull out his financial support for barangay captains who started the Pilipinas 2016 Duterte Movement. The barangay captains continued and the steady support from the office of the city mayor remained unchanged. 

While saying he plans to retire after his term ends next year, he continues to use the phrase, "if I become president" during his listening tours. This has left many guessing about his true intentions in 2016.

Human Rights Watch commented that the lack of comprehensive investigation is very alarming considering that the existence of the death squad was well-documented in its 2009 report and that even the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings urged the government to stop the use of death squads against criminality in Davao City. 

Murder charges

In 2012, the Commission on Human Rights issued a resolution after it found probable cause for the allegations of abuses and recommended that the Office of the Ombudsman file murder charges against the mayor. 

"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. The country’s Court of Appeals later 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. 

HRW expressed dismay that the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which has supervisory control over local government units as directed by the Office of the President, and the National Bureau of Investigation failed to investigate Duterte's alleged role in the death squads.  

"Duterte has a long history of inflammatory public statements that would seem to encourage the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals. He has commanded his police officers to 'shoot to kill' people ranging from suspected criminals to rice smugglers. That rhetoric has fueled protests from human rights groups and the Commission on Human Rights, which denounced the mayor for his statement and urged him to “operate on the rule of law," HRW said. 

End vigilantism

To make it worse, the pattern of death squads targeting criminals has reached other cities in Mindanao and Visayas, HRW said.

"United States State Department cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 noted the apparent rise of municipal government-sanctioned death squads in cities including Cebu City, Toledo, and Carcar," HRW said. 

This "tolerance" on vigilantism, Kine said, most especially if it is being advocated by a government official, must come to an end, and those who are involved must face the law. 

“The long official tolerance of Duterte’s advocacy of summary killings as effective crime-fighting strategy needs to stop. 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,” Kine said.

Reacting to the HRW statement, Duterte's communication group sent a text message: “What?!!!??!! US-based human rights wants me investigated?! Bullshit!! You are all hypocrites! You cannot even protect the human rights in your own country the American-Africans and other minorities, not to mention your inutility in dealing with the genocide going on in Africa and other countries. To all the bleeding hearts of US-based crime watch: You want a taste of justice, my style? Come to Davao City, Philippines, and do drugs in my city. I will execute you in public. And finally, you SOBs, I offer no excuses nor do I apologize. So be it.” – Rappler.com