Members of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
Attn: Maja Andrijasevic-Boko, Secretary of the Committee on the Rights of the Child
Office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights
CH 1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

Re: 3rd and 4th consolidated report of the Philippines - Killing of children by death squads

Dear Committee Members,

During the Committee on the Rights of the Child's review of the Philippines on September 15, 2009, we urge you to give special attention to the execution-style killings of children by "death squads" that operate with virtual impunity in Davao City and elsewhere in the Philippines. 

The Committee has previously expressed its concern about the operation of death squads in Davao and Digos Cities and recognized the special vulnerability of street children.[1]  Other United Nations human rights bodies, such as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, have raised similar concerns.[2]

The government of the Philippines has failed to take meaningful steps to prevent and investigate these killings and prosecute the perpetrators. Meanwhile, the number of victims of targeted killings, particularly in Davao City, has steadily increased and the use of death squads has spread to other cities in the country. We urge you to use this review to question the Philippines as to its failure to prevent or investigate these organized killings of children, and hold perpetrators accountable.

1.       Targeted killings

The number of victims of targeted killings of adults and children in Davao City has steadily increased in the past decade. From two reported cases in 1998, the number rose to 98 in 2003, and 124 in 2008. 71 people were killed this year, bringing the total number of people killed by the so-called Davao Death Squad since 1998 to more than 908.

At least 82 victims, or 9 percent, were children. For instance:

  • In July 2007 Adon Mandagit, 15, was shot dead by two people in the street, near a popular fast food restaurant in Davao City. Months earlier, his mother was warned by the police in a nearby town that unless her son changed his behavior, "Something may happen to him."[3]
  • From July 2001 to April 2007, the four Alia brothers Richard, 18, Christopher, 17, Bobby, 14, and Fernando, 15, were stabbed to death one after another, by unidentified perpetrators in Davao City. Previously, in early July 2001, when the police tried to arrest Richard, the eldest brother, a Senior Police Officer told his mother, "Ok, you don't want to give your child to me, then watch out because your sons will be killed, one by one."[4]
  • In May 2003, Romeca Jaca, 17, was shot dead by one man while three others cornered him in an alley in Davao City. Earlier in the evening, a neighbor told Jaca that an official with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority wanted to see him.[5]

In recent years, reports of targeted killings have expanded beyond Davao City to other cities on the island of Mindanao, and to Cebu City, the Philippines' second-largest metropolis. For instance:

  • On January 14, 2008, two men shot Allen Conjorado, 23, his brother Ronaldo, 15, and their cousin "Malaya," 6, in their aunt's small store in General Santos City. Neighbors had previously told the family that Allen was on the list of "people to be executed."[6]
  • On March 27, 2003, Marco Angelo, 16, of Digos City, did not come home from school. His body, which bore marks of torture and one bullet wound, was found the next day. A local community leader told Human Rights Watch that he believed Marco was a suspected drug user and had been killed by the Digos death squad after his classmate, a death squad member, delivered him to the place where the execution took place.[7]

Based on extensive interviews, including with those who have insider knowledge of the Davao Death Squad, Human Rights Watch has concluded that police officers and local government officials are involved or complicit in the decade-long killing spree that has plagued Davao City. The long-time mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, has failed to condemn or take serious efforts to prevent these killings. Rather, his public comments, portraying an image of being tough on crime at all costs, indicate his support for the Davao Death Squad.[8]

2.      The Philippine government's failure to effectively prevent or investigate the killings, or prosecute perpetrators

Since April 2009, various Philippine government institutions have announced that they would investigate the death squads. The National Commission on Human Rights is conducting public hearings, and its chairperson, Leila De Lima, promised to pursue investigations into the killings "for as long as it takes." The Commission has formed an inter-agency task force that will look into the Davao Death Squad. The Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General instructed police chiefs to pursue cases against those implicated in the killings.

The apparent involvement of local police in the Davao Death Squad, however, makes them unsuitable for such an investigation. Instead, such an investigation requires the direct involvement of authorities at the national level, such as the police headquarters in Manila or the National Bureau of Investigation. The PNP should ensure that officers charged with any investigation do not intimidate, harass, or threaten families of victims or witnesses, or force them to testify against their will. The PNP should conduct thorough investigations into the killings; open channels of communication to receive information anonymously; and investigate the alleged participation and complicity of police officers, including officials who fail to rigorously investigate cases.

Despite pronouncements and activities by various government agencies, however, the PNP has yet to arrest a single person for these crimes, let alone investigate the involvement of local police in the operation of death squads. Instead, at the Commission on Human Rights hearing in Davao City in March, police blamed the local community for not coming forward with evidence.

3.      Questions for the Philippines' government

Under article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the "Convention"),[9] the government is obligated to protect the right to life, survival and development of all children by taking effective measures to prevent extrajudicial killings of children and to investigate thoroughly alleged killings and bring perpetrators to justice. In addition, article 20 requires that governments provide special protection and assistance to children deprived of their family environment, including street children. Article 40 says that a child accused of or recognized as having committed a crime must be treated in a manner consistent with promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth.

Bearing these responsibilities under the Convention in mind, we urge the Committee on the Rights of the Child to raise these concerns with the Philippines government, in particular to ask:

  • What progress has been made in the apprehension of perpetrators of extrajudicial killings of street children and children in conflict with the law in Davao City and other cities in Mindanao, and in Cebu City? In particular, what progress has been made in investigating the killings of the four teenaged Alia brothers in Davao City from 2001 to 2007?
  • Are the Ombudsman's Office and the National Bureau of Investigation investigating law enforcement officers and other government officials suspected of involvement or complicity in death squad activity, including officials who fail to adequately investigate targeted killings?
  • What is being done to ensure that officers under investigation do not intimidate, harass, or threaten families of victims or witnesses, or force them to testify against their will?

We encourage the Philippine authorities to implement the recommendations in the Human Rights Watch report. The main recommendations include:

  • The Philippine National Police, the Ombudsman's Office and the National Bureau of Investigation should conduct thorough investigations into targeted killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children including holding accountable state officials and police officers involved or complicit in such killings and addressing the failure of police to investigate the killings rigorously and prepare cases for prosecution.
  • The National Commission on Human Rights should investigate whether Rodrigo Duterte, mayor of Davao City, and other mayors and governors in the Philippines have been involved or complicit in death squad killings, or whether statements by government officials may have incited violence.
  • The Department of Justice should set up a witness protection program that is safeguarded by an agency other than the Philippine National Police.  Ensure that the program provides protection for witnesses from the onset of the filing of a relevant case to its closure, and after the trial, if necessary, and provides special protection for child witnesses.

We further encourage the Philippine government to:

  • Through the Commission on Human Rights, in conjunction with the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and other agencies as appropriate:
    o Investigate alleged death squad killings of children and the recruitment of children as members of death squads, and monitor any future killings of children in the cities where death squads are known to operate.
    o Coordinate the protection of children who have been warned that they are at risk of extrajudicial killing, have been targeted, or have witnessed an extrajudicial killing and their families.
  • Through the National Council for the Welfare of Children:
    o Coordinate the provision of adequate support services for the families of victims of death squad killings, including psycho-social counseling and legal aid.
    o Develop specific guidelines for local government units on the formulation and implementation of child protection policies, based on the Convention and other international standards.
    o Develop programs that address the underlying socioeconomic factors that contribute to children living on the street or becoming involved in criminal activities.

We invite you to download the Human Rights Watch report, "You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killing in Mindanao," which includes a full set of recommendations for various Philippine government agencies and members of the international community. We also attach a position paper prepared by CASE on this issue.

Thank you for your time and consideration. We would welcome any opportunity to discuss this important matter further with committee members.

Sincerely,

Elaine Pearson Deputy Director, Asia Division Human Rights Watch

Emmanuel C. Roldan Secretariat Coalition Against Summary Execution

Lily Flordelis National Convenor Kalitawhan Network


[1] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, "Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention, Concluding Observations, Philippines," CRC/C/15/Add.259, September 21, 2005, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G05/440/53/PDF/G0544053.pdf?OpenE..., paras 23, 26, 83, 84.

[2] UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, Mission to Philippines, A/HRC/8/3/Add.2, April 16, 2008, paras. 39-44, 69; UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, Follow-up to country recommendations - Philippines, A/HRC/11/2/Add., April 29, 2009, paras. 8, 18-23.

[3] Human Rights Watch, Philippines - ‘You Can Die Any Time': Death Squad Killings in Mindanao, April 2009, pp. 30-31.

[4] Ibid., pp. 36-38.

[5] Ibid., p. 41.

[6] Ibid., pp. 45-46.

[7] Ibid., pp. 46-47.

[8] In response to the arrest of an alleged drug dealer in Davao City, in February 2009 Mayor Duterte said, "Here in Davao, you can't go out alive. You can go out, but inside a coffin. Is that what you call extra-judicial killing? Then I will just bring a drug lord to a judge and kill him there, that will no longer be extra-judicial." "Police Told: Solve Drug Problem or Be Fired," Sun Star Network, Davao, at: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/police-told-solve-drug-problem-or-be-fired; February 15, 2009. Similarly, he said, "If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination." Jeffrey M. Tupas, "Where crime suspects live dangerously," Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 15, 2009.

[9] Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc.A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, art. 6.