Police officers at the crime scene of the murder of Rogelio Butalid, a broadcast commentator, outside his radio station in Tagum City, in the southern Philippines on December 11, 2013. A witness told Human Rights Watch that a Tagum Death Squad member shot Butalid at point-blank range.

© 2013 Earl Condeza/Davaotoday.com
To the editor:
Ramon Tulfo (“On Target: Summary killings: Who’s complaining?” May 24, 2014) criticizes Human Rights Watch for its recent report about death squad killings in Tagum City, which implicates Tagum’s former mayor Rey Uy. The report details extrajudicial executions of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children, and is based in part on interviews and affidavits from three self-proclaimed members of the death squad that carried out the killings.
Tulfo asks “if Uy was indeed responsible for the killings of bad elements ... so what?” The people of Tagum City, Tulfo says, are not complaining because they “slept well in their homes at night and walked the streets without fear of getting mugged.” Tulfo’s vision for the rule of law in a democratic society seems to be that “bad elements,” including 9-year-old children, should be subject to summary execution without due process or trial, so that citizens can “sleep well” at night. That in itself is a very troubling vision. But besides the large body counts—not exactly a sign of a safe city—death squads invariably continue their murderous ways beyond the original mandate. In Tagum, Human Rights Watch documented how by 2005 the death squad had morphed into a “guns for hire” criminal enterprise that targeted businessmen, police officers, and a judge, among others.

Tulfo claims Human Rights Watch is biased because we “looked the other way” when US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq “kill innocent civilians” and when former Mayor Rudolf Giuliani “was uprooting weeds in New York City” in the 1990s.

Had Tulfo gone to our website, he would have found the numerous reports we have produced on US abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq, including on shootings and airstrikes by US forces, and abuses by US soldiers against detainees. He would also have found Human Rights Watch’s reporting on police brutality during the Guiliani era. Human Rights Watch has also conducted research on CIA torture and secret prisons, detentions at Guantanamo, poor prison conditions and the mistreatment of immigrants in the United States.

Tulfo may be partly right to suggest that the Philippines’ “corrupt judiciary is responsible for the spread of criminality.” Human Rights Watch has long reported on serious problems in the country’s criminal justice system. I authored a 2007 report on bombings and beheadings by Abu Sayyaf which noted the judiciary’s poor record even in terrorism cases.
The solution to a broken justice system, however, is reform, not death squads, which violate not only the laws and constitution of the Philippines, but the human values that lie at their foundation.

John Sifton
Asia Advocacy Director
Human Rights Watch