Duterte part of killings? US to look into claims

Jee Y. Geronimo
Duterte part of killings? US to look into claims

Toto Lozano

(3rd UPDATE) International watchdog Human Rights Watch also calls on the United Nations for an independent investigation into the allegations

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The United States said it is “taking seriously” recent allegations that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered killings in Davao City when he was still mayor.

“These are serious allegations and we take them seriously, we look into them,” said US State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner. 

International watchdog Human Rights Watch even called on the United Nations for an independent investigation into these claims. 

“President Duterte can’t be expected to investigate himself, so it is crucial that the United Nations is called in to lead such an effort. Otherwise, Filipinos may never know if the president was directly responsible for extrajudicial killings,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Friday, September 16.

On Thursday, September 15, Edgar Matobato, an alleged member of the so-called “Davao Death Squad,” attended the Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings and spoke about several instances when Duterte instructed them to execute people.

One such instance, he said, is the killing of broadcaster Jun Pala in 2003.

Matobato said under oath that Duterte, through his supposed “right hand man,” a certain Arthur Lascañas, ordered Pala killed because the Davao-based radio commentator had been criticizing Duterte repeatedly.

Matobato also tagged Duterte’s son Paolo during Thursday’s hearing, saying the current Davao City vice mayor ordered the killing of Cebuano businessman Richard King in 2014.

“The detailed testimony from a ‘death squad’ member that then-Mayor Duterte was personally involved in killings and ordered others are very serious allegations that require an independent investigation,” Adams added. 

A senator, however, spotted some loopholes in Matobato’s testimony. (READ: Lacson questions witness testimony)

Human Rights Watch has, for years, repeatedly called for an investigation into the so-called “Davao Death Squad,” and Duterte’s role in it. (READ: Davao Death Squad: What ever happened to the investigations?)

As far as Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa is concerned, however, the death squad is just a “creation of media.” (READ: Drug lords controlling country’s politicians – Dela Rosa)

Meanwhile, Wilnor Papa, a campaign officer for the Manila office of Amnesty International, said the problem of impunity was coming to a head partly due to the failure of previous governments, which failed to prosecute Duterte.

“We are now seeing riding-in-tandem (motorcycle-borne assassins) like those that prowled the Davao streets in the late 1990s, The targets are not only drug syndicates. Even purse snatchers use them and they can target basically anyone,” he told Agence France-Presse.

War on drugs

The administration has also come under fire for the mounting death toll in its current campaign against illegal drugs.

Two UN rights experts earlier said that Duterte’s decision to ask law enforcers and the public to kill suspected drug traffickers “amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law.”

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has also expressed concern over the rise of killings of suspected drug personalities, stating that it is “not in line with the current provisions of international drug conventions.”

From July 1 until the 2nd week of September 2016, a total of 3,526 persons have been killed, based on data from the Philippine National Police. About 1,491 were drug personalities killed in police operations, while 2,035 were victims of extrajudicial or vigilante killings. 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines came out with a statement on Thursday about the killings, asking law enforcers to respect human rights. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.