This afternoon, from 1:30 to 4:30 pm, I attended a multisectoral dialogue on the summary killings in the city. This was organized by the City Council's Committee on Human Rights and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Davao Chapter. Among those who attended were the regional director of the Commission on Human Rights, the top ranking officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Ombudsman's Office, the Archdiocesan Social Action center, representatives from various Non-Government Organizations, officers of the IBP. I represented the Coalition Against Summary Executions (CASE) and also the Church sector.
Attorney Quibod of the IBP gave a report on the summary killings in Davao. Based on the data from the CASE, Quibod reported that there has been over 800 victims of summary killings for the past 11 years, and 33 during the month of January this year. After his report, the representatives of the various groups gave their reactions and recommendations. The police officials made it clear that they do not condone summary killings. In the middle of the dialogue, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte suddenly arrived and spoke for over 45 minutes. He denied involvement in these killings. He claimed that his previous statements threatening to kill drug pushers and criminals were meant to scare them so that they will be deterred from engaging in these crimes. He also said that as mayor he has a responsbility to protect the citizens of the city from these criminals. For as long as these criminals (especially the drug dealers and pushers) are in the city they are targets for assassination. He also criticized priests who accused him of links to the death squads and said that they should present their proof during the hearing that will be conducted by the Human Rights Commission. After speaking, he immediate left the room and we continued our dialogue.
One of the members of the IBP expressed concern that the mayor's chilling statement could be misconstrued as a justification for the summary killings.
The police officials and the regional prosecutor expressed the difficulty of going after the death squads since no witness were willing to come forward.
When it was my time to speak, I expressed my appreciation that at least, the city council's human rights committee and IBP were able to a organize multisectoral forum that could address this issue. I pointed out that it was difficult to get witnesses because most were afraid that they could be targeted next by the death squads and because they suspected the involvement of some members of the police and even those in authority. This was my appeal: the implementation of the UN rapporteur's (Philip Alston's) recommendation for an independent commission that will investigate these killings.
By the end of the forum the following recommendations were adopted:
1. to strengthen the partnership of the police and the community to create an "atmosphere of trust;
2. to create of a multi-sectoral task force composed of the agencies in the dialogue;
3. to form an independent body to conduct an investigation of the cases;
4. to maximize the witness protection program to encourage more witnesses to come out;
5. stricter law involving motorcycles because of reports that the killers were using motorcycles without plates;
6. to strengthen the forensic and investigative capability of all law enforcement agencies, and;
7. to review the policies of media coverage on the killings.