MANILA, Philippines – An international human rights organization yesterday urged the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to give special attention to the execution-style killings of children by “death squads” allegedly operating in Davao City and other parts of the Philippines.
The UN committee is to begin shortly its review on the Philippine report on the killing of children and death squads.
Elaine Pearson, deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, Emmanuel Roldan, of the Coalition Against Summary Execution Secretariat, and Lily Flordelis of the National Convenor Kalitawhan Network, reported in a letter to members of the committee that death squads in Davao City and elsewhere in the Philippines operate with impunity and the Philippine government has failed to take meaningful steps to prevent and investigate these killings and prosecute the perpetrators.
The Philippines’ third and fourth consolidated report on the reported killing of children by death squads will be reviewed by the committee on Sept. 15.
The committee had previously expressed its concern about the operation of death squads in Davao and Digos and recognized the special vulnerability of street children. Other UN human rights bodies, such as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, have raised similar concerns.
The Human Rights Watch pointed out that the government should explain about targeted killings; its failure to effectively prevent or investigate the killings, or prosecute perpetrators; whether the Ombudsman’s Office and the National Bureau of Investigation are investigating law enforcement officers and other government officials suspected of involvement or complicity in death squad activity, including officials who fail to adequately investigate targeted killings; and what is being done to ensure that officers under investigation do not intimidate, harass, or threaten families of victims or witnesses, or force them to testify against their will.
The group claimed that the number of victims of targeted killings of adults and children in Davao City has steadily increased in the past decade. From two reported cases in 1998, the number rose to 98 in 2003, and 124 in 2008. Seventy-one people have been killed this year, bringing the total killed by the so-called Davao Death Squad since 1998 to more than 908.
At least 82 victims, or nine percent, were children, including Adon Mandagit, the Alia brothers, and Romeca Jaca.
The 15-year-old Mandagit was shot dead by two people in the street near a popular fast food restaurant in Davao City.
Human Rights Watch said that the police in a nearby town warned Mandagit’s mother months earlier that unless her son changed his behavior, “Something may happen to him.”
From July 2001 to April 2007, the four Alia brothers – Richard, 18, Christopher, 17, Bobby, 14, and Fernando, 15 – were stabbed to death one after another by unidentified perpetrators in Davao City.
“Previously, in early July 2001, when the police tried to arrest Richard, the eldest brother, a senior police officer told his mother, ‘Okay, you don’t want to give your child to me, then watch out because your sons will be killed, one by one,’” the group said.
In May 2003, Jaca, 17, was shot dead by a man while three others cornered him in an alley in Davao City. Earlier in the evening, a neighbor reportedly told Jaca that an official of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency wanted to see him.
“In recent years, reports of targeted killings have expanded beyond Davao City to other cities on the island of Mindanao, and to Cebu City, the Philippines’ second-largest metropolis,” the group said.
Based on extensive interviews, including with those who have insider knowledge of the Davao Death Squad, Human Rights Watch has concluded that police officers and local government officials are involved in the decade-long killing spree that has plagued Davao City.
“The long-time mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, has failed to condemn or take serious efforts to prevent these killings. Rather, his public comments, portraying an image of being tough on crime at all costs, indicate his support for the Davao Death Squad,” the group added.
Since April 2009, various Philippine government institutions have announced that they would investigate the death squads. The National Commission on Human Rights formed an inter-agency task force that will look into the Davao Death Squad.
But despite these pronouncements and activities, the group said the PNP has yet to arrest a single person, let alone investigate the involvement of local police in the operation of death squads.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International (AI), a London-based human rights watchdog, yesterday said that people in Mindanao have been displaced from their communities due to the enduring gun battle between military and rebel forces, and are also falling victim to so-called extrajudicial killings (EJKs), enforced disappearance, and torture.
Aurora Parong, section director of AI, said there is continuing human rights abuses as well as violations of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in different evacuation sites in Central Mindanao.
“There is an alarming level of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, and torture among IDPs (internally displaced persons) for being suspected as reserved soldiers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),” Parong told reporters during an interview following the official launch of its 74-page second report, “Philippines: Shattered lives, beyond the 2008-2009 Mindanao armed conflict.”
The independent human rights group described the conflict in Mindanao as “having the highest number of new IDPs worldwide” with more than 750,000 people forced out of their homes in the last months of the conflict alone.
Although Parong noted that AI does not have the exact number of cases of such human rights violations, she estimated that of late, there are around 100 cases of different human rights abuses.
Parong said these are being blamed on the military, MILF, and local militias.
The group, which claimed to have interviewed a torture victim, said there were also accounts of some IDPs failing to return to evacuation camps, others going missing and another IDP found dead, floating on the river.
Based on the report, a group of five soldiers reportedly visited the home of a 37-year-old charcoal maker in the municipality of Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao province on June 3 this year, beat him up in front of his children and eventually killed him.
The AI report likewise noted that attacks against civilians by both parties (government and MILF) persist, as authorities continue to treat many Muslim civilians as MILF-supporters or fighters.
The group also scored the AFP’s reported food blockade that resulted in food insecurity in the evacuation camp.
But the AFP maintained that it has not implemented any food blockade for the thousands of internally displaced persons at the height of the conflict in Central Mindanao and in two Lanao provinces. –-Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star), Katherine Adraneda, Jaime Laude