Monday, July 28, 2008

Death Squads in our Midst

For the last two days, I have been assisting two members of the US-based HumanRights Watch conduct research and interviews about the killings perpetrated by the Davao Death Squads (DDS).

In spite of the opposition and condemnations by the Church and civil society, the killings carried out by the DDS have not subsided. Our data as of May 2008 show that there are 641 documented cases of summary executions (since 1998). Just 5 days ago, there were four killings that have been reported. Most of the victims are young people accused of drug use and drug pushing, petty theft, membership in gangs.

Many of those interviewed believe that the DDS is sponsored by local government officials in the city and the barangays. They say that the DDS is composed mainly of rebel-returnees (esp. f0rmer sparrow unit hitmen of the NPA) and off-duty police officers. The list of targets (order of battle) are compiled with the help of the barangay intelligence network. It has the support of big business who claim that it has made Davao peaceful and crime-free. It appears that these killings is part of a systematic campaign to rid the city of petty criminals using means that are criminal and illegal. These observations are similar to that reported by UN special rapporteaur Alston.

It will be difficult to prove these allegations because no one is willing to come out and testify. There were already two cases of filed against alleged DDS hitmen who were caught but these have not prospered - it was difficult to find witnesses and the suspects were granted bail and have disappeared.

Meanwhile, there is very little outcry to these killings. Many ordinary citizens even think that this is good since the DDS is getting rid of the criminals in our midst. But there are still many who are against it but think that there is nothing we can do about it. The killings continue and all we can do is to count the victims. The crimes and criminals continue to increase - and the big ones occupy high positions in government.

What is happening reminds me of the martial law period when suspected criminals were executed by secret marshalls sponsored by the dictatorial government. Yes, this is indeed a legacy of martial law. This is one of the manifestation of the culture of death that rules Philippine society. There is a lack of respect for the value of life and the rule of law. The national government under the leadership of president Arroyo has failed to do something to stop this.

Several years ago, Archbishop Capalla already wrote a pastoral letter condemning it. The Redemptorist community in Davao has denounced it. We have constantly preached against it. Yet the killings continue. What more can we do?

We will continue to exercise our prophetic mission even at the risk of incurring the ire of those responsible for these killings. Someday, they will be held accountable for their crimes and sins - if not in this life, then before the Divine Tribunal.

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