President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines ordered the police to investigate vigilante killings one month after Human Rights Watch exposed the involvement of local government officials in them. More than 800 residents of Davao City—the epicenter of the killings—have fallen victim to the Davao Death Squad over the last decade.
The mayor of Davao has tried to portray himself as “tough on crime” and refused to condemn the killings even as he denied any links to them. The Davao death squads have carried out extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, street children, and others. Human Rights Watch found and interviewed death squad “insiders” with direct knowledge of death squad operations. We published detailed information about the operations, which led to significant critical local media coverage. We testified in front of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights and arranged for a closed session to give space to the voices of local groups and witnesses who were too afraid of retribution to testify in an open session.
As a result of the publicity we generated, the Catholic Church sent an open letter to President Arroyo protesting the killings and local civil society organizations also have spoken out against the killings. We are now urging the government to send a strong message against impunity and, following the investigation, to prosecute those responsible for the killings.