(Manila) – The Philippine government should investigate Davao City’s Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for his possible role in summary executions in the city over the past decade, Human Rights Watch said today. Duterte has continued to espouse the killing of criminal suspects to combat crime in a city that has long had high numbers of apparent “death squad” killings – more than 1,000 since the late 1990s.
Duterte has been mayor of Davao City, located on the main southern island of Mindanao, almost continuously since 1988. He said in a speech on May 15, 2015, that his approach to crime fighting depended on the killing of suspected criminals. “We’re the ninth safest city. How do you think I did it? How did I reach that title among the world’s safest cities? Kill them all [criminals].”
“The Philippine government should take a zero-tolerance approach to any public official who publicly endorses extrajudicial killings as an acceptable means of crime control,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Duterte’s public support for the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals should prompt a long overdue investigation into Duterte’s possible role in those deaths.”
Duterte has been on a speaking tour across the Philippines for the past six months touting the killing of criminal suspects as an effective crime control technique.
Human Rights Watch documented the existence of the Davao “death squad” and Duterte’s role in it in the 2009 report “You Can Die Anytime.” The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings included the Davao killings in his 2009 investigation and called on the government to end the use of death squads as a means of crime fighting.
The official Commission on Human Rights has also investigated these allegations and in 2012 issued a resolution saying that it found probable cause to recommend that the Office of the Ombudsman file murder charges against Duterte. But the Ombudsman limited its investigation to the police officers implicated in the killings – not Duterte himself – finding 21 of them guilty of “simple neglect of duty,” and fining them the equivalent of a month’s salary. The country’s Court of Appeals later overturned the verdict, saying the Ombudsman merely used statistics against the police officers. To date, not one person has been convicted for involvement in any of the killings.
The Ombudsman has not investigated Duterte for his role in the Davao death squad. Neither has the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which is under the Office of the President and has administrative and supervisory control over municipal governments. The National Bureau of Investigation, which is under the Department of Justice, has likewise failed to probe Duterte’s alleged links to the Davao death squad.
Duterte has a long history of inflammatory public statements that would seem to encourage the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals. He has commanded his police officers to “shoot to kill” people ranging from suspected criminals to rice smugglers. That rhetoric has fueled protests from human rights groups and the Commission on Human Rights, which denounced the mayor for his statement and urged him to “operate on the rule of law.”
Duterte’s Davao City model of extrajudicial killings as a crime-fighting strategy appears to have spread to other cities in the Philippines. United States State Department cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 noted the apparent rise of municipal government-sanctioned death squads in cities including Cebu City, Toledo, and Carcar.
After a 2014 Human Rights Watch report about the Tagum City death squad in Mindanao, a Department of Justice investigation resulted in charges filed against Tagum City’s former Mayor Rey Uy and 29 other local and police officials for their alleged role in summary killings there. But Philippine authorities have not taken action against other death squad operations.
“The long official tolerance of Duterte’s advocacy of summary killings as effective crime-fighting strategy needs to stop,” Kine said. “The government should send an unambiguous message to Duterte and other officials that support for extrajudicial killings results in an investigation – not in speaking tours.”