The summary killings in Davao City have created conditions for a possible spiral of fear, retribution, anarchy and terror in the city. The questions now on the minds of Davaoenos are: If the authorities cannot stop the vigilantes, what prevents other criminal or even political elements from now snuffing the lives of any hapless victim, as the killings will be attributed anyway to the vigilantes? When will the killings finally stop? These questions should be placed squarely on city officials and the police who by their failure or inability to stop the killings have unwittingly allowed impunity to the death squads in Davao.
Statement of Peace Groups on Summary Killings in Davao
Do you know the story about the Nazi persecution and killings of the Jews, Communists and Catholics? Few spoke out against the atrocities. Until the day that the Nazis came for the complacent ones as well… and no one was left to speak out for them…
Today we gather in remembrance of our fellow human rights worker and peace advocate Jacinto “Rashid” Manahan, Jr.,who was shot and killed by still unidentified gunmen a week ago last August 24.
Rashid was the Davao-based coordinator of the Mamamayang Tutol sa Bitay (Citizens Against Death Penalty) Movement for Restorative Justice. His death was ironical because he was murdered while en route to a forum on the death penalty.
We also gather to remember the nearly 70 people shot and killed in Davao City this year, many of them minors, poor and anonymous, but all victims of gunmen who have the impunity to murder them in cold blood, in public and even in blazing daylight.
Our list of victims even goes as far back as last year (2003), where media documented up to 100 people summarily executed in the city. And if we still remember 2002, when the Luzon-based NGO PREDA Foundation, Inc. launched an international letter writing campaign addressed to the former mayor of Davao protesting the activities of the Davao Death Squad or DDS killing youth and minors on the street, then we are bearing witness to summary killings in the city for two straight years, with no end yet in sight.
What do these continued killings mean?
They mean a breakdown in the rule of law and the loss of faith in the justice system, the courts and the police in Davao. To use the words of PREDA officer Fr. Shay Cullen in his August 19, 2004 press release titled “Only Honest Police and Judges Will End Death Squads”: “These killings have all the signs of extra judicial executions and are far worse because the victims are never charged with a crime, have no evidence against them, they see no day in court and have no chance ofdue process to prove their innocence.”
But as the facts show, even streetkids, minors or first-time offenders are not being spared. Last May, a 12-year old boy was among those gunned down by motorcycle riding gunmen. This even as the city police chief stood firm on his earlier pronouncement that there were no death squads operating in the city. The series of vigilante-style killing only momentarily stopped at the start of the election campaign in February.
The facts also show that the killers have become more open, more brazen in killing. One 35 year-old man was returning home after bringing his 7-year old son to school when he was shot dead within sight of his house. In another case, two men in their 50s were inside a house playing chess when the killers barged in and shot both to death. Another victim was hunted down like prey and cornered in a canteen where he was gunned down before terrified customers. Still another was riding a public jeep with his family when killers intercepted the vehicle and shot him in plain view of his family and passengers.
When the killings started, the victims were criminal suspects including those recidivists and repeated or habitual offenders and particularly drug pushers and rapists. But as the months passed and the toll mounted, even ordinary people not associated with drug pushing were being gunned down in similar style, some reportedly over petty personal fights or longstanding grudges or conflicts. And as the death of Rashid shows, even a human rights worker is no different to the killers.
And the killings continue. The weekend of Rashid’s murder, two men were killed and one injured in two more separate attacks by motorcycle-riding men. In the first incident, the two victims had just attended a wedding party and were waiting for companions when shot by the roadside; in the second incident, the victim was cleaning the front of his residence when approached by the killers and shot dead.
The impunity these killers in Davao enjoy also seem to encourage other murderers who strike in similar fashion. Last August 27, a German national who had lived since 1999 in Hagonoy, Davao del Sur where he owned a beach resort with his Filipina wife, was shot and killed by one of two motorcycle-riding men in Digos City, some 50 kilometers away from Davao.
The summary killings have also divided the city. There are those who support the killings as good because it rids or drives away the criminal elements operating in the city. There are those- led by the church and human rights groups-who denounce the summary killings as a failure of the police, city officials and the courts in law enforcement and justice.
But why are people not speaking out? Because they are either indifferent, fearful or the rich and comfortable and therefore not faced by the possibility of the same violence happening to them. Or, as represented by the sentiments of a senior official of the influential Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, because the summary killings helped reduce the level of crime and therefore have created a good climate for business. Or as a top city official says, because the summary executions were having no bad effect on tourism.
Or have the ordinary people been rendered powerless by the failure or unwillingness of the city officials and the police to stop the killings and bring suspects to court? For indeed, which witness will volunteer to give testimony when only few suspects have been haled to court and many of killers remain free and unfettered?
Last August 12, operatives of the Task Force Davao arrested a suspected DDS member, Romeo Taysa, after he allegedly shot and killed a bus terminal “barker” at the city bus terminal.
Taysa is in police custody and the families of victims of summary executions who belong to the local Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) are urging Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to investigate the Taysa case to unmask the mastermind in the killings.
The pessimism of the ordinary people may stem from their perception that few of the cases have been solved and no justice has been granted to the victims and their families. They are quick to point out that even the killing of relatively influential people like former City Councilor Juan Porras “Jun” Pala last September 6, 2003 has not been solved up to now.
So the summary killings in Davao continue with no end or solution in sight. The killings continue with almost alarming frequency, some occurring days of each other. But the city prefers to present a veneer of peace and stability, showcased by the yearly Kadayawan festivals and other economic successes, even if put in place by maintaining the hundreds-strong Task Force Davao (TFD) to secure Davao after the March and April 2003 airport and seaport bombings, and buttressed by additional military, police and paramilitary units and civilian volunteers.
Indeed, the conditions have been created for a possible spiral of fear, retribution, anarchy and terror in the city. The questions now on the minds of Davaoenos are: If the authorities cannot stop the vigilantes, what prevents other criminal or even political elements from now snuffing the lives of any hapless victim, as the killings will be attributed anyway to the vigilantes? When will the killings finally stop?
These questions should be placed squarely on city officials and the police who by their failure or inability to stop the killings have unwittingly allowed impunity to the death squads in Davao. We urge Mayor Rodrigo Dueterte and the City Police Chief Conrado Laza to investigate and make a public report on the Taysa arrest and in the Rashid Manahan killing to gain headway into investigations in the summary killings.
We also challenge President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the Philippine National Police chief to already step in and investigate the summary killings in Davao. We call on the chairs of both the Senate and Lower House committee on human rights to initiate a congressional inquiry into the killings. Our national leaders must realize that failure to protect human rights is also failure in basic governance.
We call on the international agencies defending human rights and civil liberties to issue condemnations of the Davao killings and call attention of the local government and the national leadership to the deteriorating situation in Davao.
We ask solidarity from national and international peace groups to condemn the Davao killings and ask for government action. If the message in Rashid’s death is for us to keep quiet, then local groups are vulnerable under present conditions.
Finally, we call on the people of Davao to be more vigilant and open in denouncing these crimes. We maintain that there were eyewitnesses in many cases, but they are afraid to speak out in the absence of security guarantees for them.
In closing, let us remember the story of the complacent ones who found no one else to aid them when they themselves became targets of the persecution.
Justice for Rashid and other victims of summary killings! Human rights is a peace issue!
Agong Peace Network
Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS)
Mindanao Peace Advocates Conference (MPAC)
Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC)
Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement (MPPM)
Mindanao Solidarity Network (MSN)
Peace Advocates of Zamboanga (PAZ)
Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE)
Kaliwat Theatre Collective
Kathara Theatre Collective
Ford Academy Visual Artists
Mebuyan Peace Project
Community Resource Development Center (CRDC)
Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC)
Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute (Manila)
Mamamayan Tutol sa Bitay (MTB)
NDU Peace Center
Saligan – Mindanaw
Technical Assistance Center for the Devt Rural and Urban Poor (TACDRUP)
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
Ulama League of the Philippines (ULP)
United Movement Against Summary Killings (UNMASK-NCR)