14 August 2012
Where there are violations of human rights, there must be accountability
It is axiomatic in human rights law that where there are human rights violations, there must be accountability. This case of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) is about more than 200 killings, 206 to be exact, committed in Davao City in the period from 2005 to 2009, and about the search for accountability for those many lives arbitrarily taken. These figures are just what came from the records of the Commission on Human Rights. Figures from other agencies showed more.
Dead bodies were piling up in Davao City during that time, consisting mainly of addicts, drug-pushers and thieves and young people with police records for petty crimes. A number of them were minors. There was growing public and official concern, inside and outside the country.
The administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo established the Melo Commission to look into the killings. Official concern from the United Nations came with the visit of Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, who visited the country in February 2007.
In his Report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in 2008, Alston observed that “it is a commonplace that a death squad known as the ‘Davao Death Squad’ (DDS) operates in Davao City. xxx One fact points very strongly to the officially-sanctioned character of these killings: No one involved covers his face.” Indeed, according to Human Rights Watch, they “typically make greater efforts to conceal their weapons than their identity.”
Faced with this situation, the Fourth Commission of the Commission on Human Rights, then headed by now Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima, barely a year after assuming office, decided to conduct a motu proprio investigation into the killings, in accordance with its constitutional mandate. It conducted a public inquiry, with public hearings held in Davao City in March, April, May, and September, 2009.
The Commission’s investigation was hampered by a climate of fear gripping witnesses and by official denials from local government and law enforcement officials that the so-called Davao Death Squad even existed. Still, enough evidence emerged to show that there was a pattern in the victims targeted and in the method of attack. The killings were selective: the victim was usually involved or suspected to have been involved in some type of illegal activity. The manner of killing was also distinct: the assailants were usually motorcycle-riding gunmen.
Of the 206 killings recorded by the CHR, 107 victims had records or were suspected of involvement in illegal activities (51.94%), 90 victims were either shot or stabbed by motorcycle-riding assailants (45.14%), 19 victims were confirmed minors (9.22%), 157 were shot (76.21%) and 36 were stabbed (17.47%). It was also established that lists of confirmed or suspected criminals were drawn up by barangay and law enforcement officials, and that some, if not all, of those on such lists somehow ended up getting killed.
The Commission concluded that, in the period of 2005-2009, these killings constituted a systematic practice of extrajudicial killings, which can be attributed or attributable to the media-dubbed Davao Death Squad. These killings were arbitrary and rampant violations of the victims’ right to life, the most fundamental of all human rights. This right is guaranteed and protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with the clear injunction that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life”. Our own Constitution provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”
The Commission also found that there was a systematic failure on the part of the local officials to conduct any meaningful investigation into said killings, thereby violating the State’s obligation to protect the rights of its citizens. In particular, it found that then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, as the local chief executive and deputized NAPOLCOM representative with general and operational control and supervision over the city police force, had clearly disregarded information of alleged violation of the right to life committed in Davao City, and had not acted thereon.
The Commission has, therefore, recommended, among others that: 1) “the Office of the Ombudsman investigate the possible administrative and criminal liability of Mayor Duterte for his inaction in the face of evidence of numerous killings committed in Davao City and his toleration of the commission of those offenses”; 2) “a serious, impartial, and effective investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the deaths attributed or attributable to a so-called Davao Death Squad be conducted by the NBI or other independent task force and that the Office of the Ombudsman or Department of Justice duly prosecute the persons responsible”; and 4) “appropriate measures be taken by the local police to prevent any further killings fitting the pattern herein described, particularly with respect the use of motorcycles and loose firearms”.
The search for accountability continues. The Commission continues with its call to “Stop impunity, (and) make human rights our way of life!” #