Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Extrajudicial Killings: A Moral Perspective

(On July 30, 2003, 13 years ago, during the launching of the Coalition Against Summary Execution or CASE, I gave this speech. I am posting this here to help Christians in their discernment as they elect the new president. It is important that we are guided by our conscience because our choices could lead to more killings and we become accomplices to mass murder)
Extrajudicial Killings: A Moral Perspective

Almost daily, the newspapers and TV report  the series of killings of suspected criminals by the dreaded death squad. This is happening not only in Davao but in other cities in Mindanao.

Many of those killed were petty thieves, drug addicts and pushers. Many of them were still young.

What is happening reminds me of the secret marshals and the cases of salvaging during the Martial Law.

The questions is: Can these killings  be morally justified? Is it right to kill these criminals?

Those who order and perpetrate these killings obviously think that there is nothing wrong with terminating these criminals with extreme prejudice. They think they are doing society a favor because they are getting rid of these criminals, they are defending society from evil people. They believe that the elimination of these criminals is a deterrent to crime. Thus, they act as prosecutor, judge and executioner – carrying out  capital punishment – the death penalty.

I am sure that there are many ordinary citizens who think the same way. That is why there is very little public outcry. They believe  these criminals – especially these drug pushers and suppliers – deserve to die.

Is it right to kill these criminals?

In spite of good intentions, the means used  is not only illegal, it is also immoral.

The end does not justify the means. We cannot achieve a good end with evil means. It is not right to fight crime by committing a crime.

Those who order and carry out these summary executions of criminals become criminal themselves. They are guilty of the crime and sin of murder. What they do violates God’s 5th commandment: You shall not kill.

The direct and intentional killing of human beings, no matter how sinful they are, is a grave sin. Murderers are answerable not only to the law but to God.

The killing of these criminals cannot be considered as an act of self-defense. They did not directly threaten the life of the killers. While their activities are harmful to society, there are lawful means of dealing with them.

No one has a license to kill – not the government officials, not the police and military, and not any civilian. No one can arrogate to himself the power of life and death over other people – only God can do this.

Those who enforce the law must uphold the law. They are not above the law.

The Church upholds the right to life of all human beings – whether, unborn, young, old, and even criminals. The right to life is inalienable. It flows from the principle that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and possess human dignity. Thus, life is sacred. No one can be deprived of the right to life – not even those suspected and found guilty of crime.

This right to life is now enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Church’s opposition to vigilante killings or summary execution is consistent with its opposition to abortion, capital punishment, war and euthanasia.

So, by all means, those in authority should go after the criminals, bring them to justice and punish them appropriately. But they should use means that are legally and morally right. They should not become what they abhor.

There is no need to become criminals in the fight against criminals.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Victims of the Davao Death Squad: Consolidated Report 1998-2015

           I recently received a consolidated report of the killings perpetrated by the Davao Death Squad (DDS) since 1998 up to the end of 2015.  The source will not be mentioned for obvious reasons. Suffice it to say that since the killings started, they have been monitoring these cases. I know them very well and I have been collaborating with them as we denounced these killings and worked with the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Watch. They are hesitant to make the report public out of apprehension that it will be used for political purposes. I believe that to hide this would be a disservice to the nation since I believe that the body count could multiply many times over throughout the whole country in the next six years. The original report that I have is in Excel format, and very detailed (year by year, according to age, sex, areas, weapons used, etc). What I present is a summary and my own analysis. I know that when I do this, I am risking my life. But the truth must come out before it is too late.

 The total number of persons killed by the DDS from 1998-2015 is 1,424. Let me repeat in words – ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY-FOUR victims. This can be considered as MASS MURDER perpetrated by the same group, inspired and supported by the same persons. The data does not include those killed in other cities where the DDS have expanded franchise-style.

Out of 1,424, there were 1,367 male and 57 female. This means that those murdered by the DDS were not only men, there were also fifty-seven women.

Looking at this according to age there were 132 children killed (17 and below) -- 126 boys and 6 girls. The youngest was a 12 years boy and a 15 year girl. There was a 9 year old boy who was killed by a stray bullet – he was not an intended target.

There was a total of 476 young adults (18-25) murdered – 466 male, 19 female. The number of older adults (26 years and above) killed were 612 (466 male, 28 female).  There were victims whose age were not given – 201 (191 male, 10 female).

Thus, almost 50 percent of the victims were young people (children and young adults). Most the victims were killed in urban poor areas (e.g. Buhangin, Agdao, Bangkerohan, Boulevard, Matina, Toril). Most of those killed were involved in illegal drugs – as users and pushers. There were also those involved in petty crimes – theft, cell-phone snatching, gang members. There were 14 cases of mistaken identity – they were not the intended targets but the DDS hit men mistakenly hit the wrong target.  There were some who had gone away after being warned that they were on the hit list and after some years, after reforming their lives, came back thinking that they were safe. Their names were still on the list so they were still killed.

Thus, one can say that majority of the victims of the DDS were young and poor – juvenile delinquents considered as the weeds of society. There were no reports of drug lords or big time criminals among those killed by the DDS. There were two journalists who were believed to have been murdered by the DDS – Jun Pala and Ferdie “Batman” Limtungan. Jun Pala was a radio commentator who constantly spoke out against the DDS and Mayor Duterte. There were two previous attempts on his life and he accused Duterte of being behind these attacks. He was finally killed by motorcycle riding men on the third try. Ferdie “Batman” Lintuan also spoke out against the DDS and also the alleged anomalies in the construction of the People’s Park which he linked with Mayor Duterte. He was also killed by motorcycle riding men.

The victims of the DDS were unarmed. They did not fight back. Many were just sitting down on street-corners  outside sari-sari stores, talking with friends and then suddenly shot in cold blood. There were some who were just released from prison and while waiting for public transportation on the side of the road were suddenly shot by motorcycling men. How the DDS knew the exact time and place they were to be released is amazing. Another victim was killed inside his home in front of his mother and three children who were begging the DDS not to kill him. One of the most well-known case is Clarita Alia – a vegetable vendor in Bangkerohan – whose teen-age sons (who were below 17 years old) were murdered by the DDS. I was asked by Clarita to bless the  body of her boy, Fernando before he was buried.

I have personally witnessed the aftermath of two DDS killings. The first was in our parish church in Bajada. While officiating a Wedding Mass I heard shots outside in the carpark. I immediately rushed outside after the Mass to find out what happened. I saw the body of a teen-age boy lying in our church ground surrounded by people. He had just been shot by DDS hit-men while sitting in the car park with his friends. The killers escaped on a motor-cycle. There was a police car nearby but the police just fired warning shots into the air and did not go after the killers. The boy who was killed lived in a nearby slums area. He had been suspected as one of those who broke the window of a car  park in our church and stole some items two weeks earlier.

The second time I witnessed the aftermath of a DDS killing was while mountain-biking in Lomondao, a distant barangay in Davao. As I neared the place I met three motorcycle riding men speeding back to the city. When I arrived in the place I saw people who gathered around the body of a young boy. When I asked what happened, someone told me it was the DDS. The boy was cell-phone snatcher and drug user. He added, the boy deserved to die.
The killings have not stopped. The DDS continue their murderous spree even to this day.  For the last five years (2011-2015), there were 385 victims of extrajudicial killings in Davao -  39 of them below seventeen years old and 118 young adults (18-25). In 2011 there 111 reported DDS killings, in 2012 there were 61, in 2013 there were 101, in 2014 there were 52 and there were 60 in 2015. The DDS usually take a break during the campaign period. They will continue their operations after the elections.

So far, no one has been held accountable for these killings. There has been no official investigation by the police or the city government. The police do not acknowledge the existence of the DDS. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) came to Davao for a public hearing and also met secretly with witnesses – family of the victims and former members of DDS. Although the CHR recommended prosecution, this could not prosper because nobody was willing to testify in court out of fear. The DDS are still around and anybody who testifies will surely be targeted for assassination. I have met some of these witnesses and understand their fear. They claimed that some of those listed as victims were their former companions who knew too much and were suspected of betraying the DDS. So while former DDS members talked about how they were recruited, trained and how they operate, and who their handlers were and their link with some police and local government officials, all these information could not stand in court because they were not willing to testify in spite of the sworn statements made before the CHR. Much of the information can also be found in the report of the Human Rights Watch in 2009 You Can Die Anytime: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao. One of the findings of the Human Rights Watch report reveals the link between the DDS and the police:

“According to these “insiders,” most members of the DDS are either former communist New People’s Army insurgents who surrendered to the government or young men who themselves were death squad targets and joined the group to avoid being killed. Most can make far more money with the DDS than in other available occupations. Their handlers, called amo (boss), are usually police officers or ex-police officers. They provide them with training, weapons and ammunition, motorcycles, and information on the targets. Death squad members often use .45-caliber handguns, a weapon commonly used by the police but normally prohibitively expensive for gang members and common criminals.

The insiders told Human Rights Watch that the amo obtain information about targets from police or barangay (village or city district) officials, who compile lists of targets. The amo provides members of a death squad team with as little as the name of the target, and sometimes an address and a photograph. Police stations are then notified to ensure that police officers are slow to respond, enabling the death squad members to escape the crime scene, even when they commit killings near a police station.”

The Human Rights Watch Report also revealed the modus operandi:

 “Our research found that the killings follow a pattern. The assailants usually arrive in twos or threes on a motorcycle without a license plate. They wear baseball caps and buttoned shirts or jackets, apparently to conceal their weapons underneath. They shoot or, increasingly, stab their victim without warning, often in broad daylight and in presence of multiple eyewitnesses, for whom they show little regard. And as quickly as they arrive, they ride off—but almost always before the police appear.”

They deserved to die.” This is what Mayor Duterte said while denying involvement in these extrajudicial killings. At one time, he read a list in his TV program.  A few weeks later many of those in the list were killed by the DDS.

They deserve to die.” This is also the attitude of many residents of the city towards the victims of the DDS. This shows who are behind them and why there has been little outcry regarding these mass murders.

             It appears that the DDS killings are the center-piece of Mayor  Duterte’s campaign against criminality in Davao City. To fight against criminality, you simply kill the criminals through extra-judicial executions carried out by the DDS. No need to arrest them, put them on trial and imprison them if proven guilty. No need for due process of the law. Criminals do not have rights – that is a western concept. For criminals there can only be one punishment – death. It doesn’t matter if you are a petty criminal – even if you are only a drug addict or pusher or cell-phone snatcher, you deserve to die. The killings are meant to be a deterrent to crime - to instill fear on everyone so that they will stop committing crime. According to Human Rights Watch Report:

“The continued death squad operation reflects an official mindset in which the ends are seen as justifying the means. The motive appears to be simple expedience: courts are viewed as slow or inept. The murder of criminal suspects is seen as easier and faster than proper law enforcement. Official tolerance and support of targeted killing of suspected criminals promotes rather than curbs the culture of violence that has long plagued Davao City and other places where such killings occur.”

             It has been very difficult to speak out against these extrajudicial killings because majority of the people in Davao support these.  The archdiocese of Davao under the leadership of Archbishop Fernando Capalla came out with a pastoral letter: “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and held several prayer vigils. We were a minority -  a small voice whose cry in the wilderness was drowned out by the applause of the majority. The blood of 1,424 victims of the DDS was the price that was paid so that there could be peace and order – so that all can walk at night without fear. This was the peace of the cemetery, an order maintained by death squads – by criminals.
            And the mass murder continues and there will be more blood spilled – not just in Davao but the entire Philippines. Mayor Duterte promised that if elected “the 1,000 will become 100,000.” He declared that “it will be bloody.” He said there will be” no need for more jails -- just funeral parlors.” He promised to “eliminate criminality in the entire country within 3-6 months.” How will he do it? The answer is what happened in Davao – through the DDS under the direction of many police officers who deny their existence, with the financial support coming from businessmen and also drawn from the government coffers.

           “I’m willing to go to hell, as long as the people I serve live in paradise.” Is this an admission on the part of Mayor Duterte  that what he has done is a grave sin against God that could someday earn him divine punishment?

Is Davao a paradise after 18 years of DDS extrajudicial killings? Has criminality been eradicated? According to the data from PNP covering 2010-2015, out of 15 chartered cities Davao was fourth in terms of Total Index of Crimes: 37,797 incidents.  In terms of murder, Davao was no. 1 (1,032 incidents) and in terms of rape Davao was no. 2 (843 incidents).  This report gives the impression that in Davao you can be murdered and raped any time. Murder is not really that bad if the DDS and the Mayor can do it. Rape is not really that bad if the Mayor can callously joke about it, wishing he was the first in line when he heard that a hostage – an Australian Lay Missionary - was raped.
Meanwhile, the families of victims cry out for justice as the DDS continue their killing spree. The national government has failed to address this mass murder that could soon multiply many times over, God forbid.      

If the DDS is not stopped and those behind it is not held accountable, there will be a national bloodbath. Those who support it and allow it to multiply will have blood in their hands – they will be accomplices to mass murder. The one who orders this is a mass murderer – the biggest Criminal of them all. 
If it is alright to kill suspected criminals – who can stop any one from taking the law into their own hands? Anyone can become judge and executioner – not only the police and public officials. Anyone can form their own vigilante groups. There won’t be any need for prisons or lawyers or judges. There won’t be any peace, no order as long and human rights and the rule of law are disregarded. Meanwhile, the big criminals, the big thieves and murderers will continue to rule the land. If it is o.k. to kill criminals,  who can prevent anyone from killing the biggest Criminal of them all?
It could be chaotic. We could be entering another dark period of our history -- like the dictatorial period in the past or worst.  

Al Jazeera Documentary on DDS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QtJfNncVow

Friday, April 08, 2016

Merciful Leaders: Criteria for Elections in the Year of Mercy

(This is my article for my column which will be published in the CBCP Monitor)

Merciful Leaders: Criteria for Elections in the Year of Mercy

As the national and local elections draw near the question that everyone is asking: “who should I vote for?” It is not for the  clergy to dictate to the faithful who to vote for but we can only provide some guidelines that can help them make up their mind. The CBCP in previous elections came out with such guidelines which remain valid at this time. All that one needs to do is to review and follow what has already been laid down.

Since this year has been declared by Pope Francis as the Year of Mercy, it would be appropriate to emphasize “mercy” as one of the chief qualities that we have to expect from the politicians we should vote for.

What does it mean for leaders to be merciful?

It means being aware and concerned about the situation of the people – their suffering and pain. Since majority of the people are poor, their main concern is how to alleviate their poverty. They take the side of the poor. They are concerned about their hunger, their hopes and their dreams. They make sure that the economy excludes no one and benefits the majority instead of just enriching the big capitalists and foreign corporations.

Merciful leaders are concerned about the destruction of the environment and its effect on the people. They are concerned about the effects of mining on the farmers, fishermen and the indigenous peoples. They know that coal-fired power plants contribute to global warming and the coal mining is the most destructive form of mining. They know that logging and deforestation causes floods, droughts and global warming. They avoid getting involved in these activities and will do all in their power to put a stop to these activities and come up with policies that will save the environment and mitigate climate change as well as promote disaster risk reduction and management.

Merciful leaders are concerned about the effects of the never ending war on the nation. They know the effect of the spiral of violence on a traumatized people. They know how armed conflict prevents economic development. Thus, they go out of their way to build peace – a peace that addresses the roots of conflict and that leads to healing and reconciliation. They are willing to pursue the peace process with both the MILF and the NDF that will ensure a genuine and lasting peace.

Merciful leaders are not corrupt and do not tolerate corruption. They know that corruption perpetuates poverty, war and the destruction of the environment. They will do everything to stamp out corruption at all levels in government and hold accountable those guilty of corruption.

Merciful leaders are concerned about criminality and do their best to make sure that justice prevails. They make sure that those who have committed crimes are prosecuted and meted appropriate punishment. They respect the rights of people – even those accused of crimes – and follow the due process of the law. They avoid shortcuts and do not promote extra-judicial killings. They believe that even if people make mistakes, commit sin, or do terrible things no one is totally evil and beyond redemption. They deserve to be given another chance. Thus, they reject capital punishment and promote restorative justice.

Merciful leaders respect the basic human rights – especially the right to life - of everyone from the moment of conception to its natural end. They are merciful especially to the weakest – the unborn – and will make sure that their rights are respected. They will never allow abortion. They are merciful to the elderly and make sure that their rights and privileges are respected. They will make sure that the family will always be protected. Mercy should not be selective nor should it discriminate. It should be inclusive.

There are many people who clamor for strong leaders who they think can stop criminality, corruption and all forms of evil in society. They want leaders who can instill discipline among the citizens with an iron hand. They want ruthless leaders. For them being merciful is a sign of weakness. But what happens when leaders lack mercy? We can end up with a society where terror reigns, where dead bodies pile up and human rights are violated, where due process and the rule of law are ignored. It will be a repressive society - without freedom and where people are afraid to criticize the powers that be -- otherwise they too could be assassinated. Instead of peace and order, we will have the peace of the cemetery and a semblance of order maintained by ruthless bigger criminals.  Meanwhile, the vast majority remains poor and their children who have gone astray are mostly the victims of death squads. The big criminals – big time thieves and murderers -- are at large and hold office: the politicians who steal millions of the people’s money and responsible for the death of thousands.

Tough and ruthless leaders have emerged at various times in the past with disastrous results. We have to say: NEVER AGAIN!  No to ruthless leaders. Yes to merciful and compassionate leaders.