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House probe on Tagum ‘death squad’ pushed

Angela Casauay

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House probe on Tagum ‘death squad’ pushed
Human Rights Watch lauds the move of Bayan Muna but says it is not enough and urges President Benigno Aquino III to publicly denounce extrajudicial killings
CONGRESSIONAL PROBE. Former Mayor Rey Uy is seen posing with policemen in this photo uploaded on 8 Oct 2010 on his Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – Killing crime suspects without due process is a greater crime in itself. 

With this statement, Bayan Muna on Friday, June 13, filed a resolution seeking an investigation into an alleged “death squad” operated by the former mayor of Tagum City in Davao del Norte. (READ: Ex-mayor behind death squad in Tagum – report)

The resolution was filed a month after the release of a report by US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) exposing how former Tagum City Mayor Rey “Chiong” Uy is allegedly behind a group of hired killers linked to around 300 cases of extrajudicial killings in the area, which included drug dealers, petty thieves and street children. 

Uy used to refer to the citizens as “weeds,” the HRW report said. 

House Resolution No 1222 – filed by Bayan Muna Representatives Carlos Isagani Zarate and Neri Colmenares – said the existence of the death squad is a testament to the incompetence of the local police force and the lack of respect of local government officials in the justice system. 

“The impunity by which the TDS commit these murders show the utter disregard of government officials in the justice system. The reason that those murdered were ‘weeds’ of society is not sufficient to disregard the suspects’ right to due process. The fact that they are suspects means they are not yet convicted of any crime, and killing them without due process is a greater crime in itself,” the resolution said. 

It added: “There is no need to create a death squad if the local police force do its job properly, that is, to keep the peace, arrest and prosecute the criminals and bring them to the bar of justice. The creation of a death squad only shows the incompetence of the local police in enforcing the laws. The mere creation of the TDS is a slap on their face.”

HRW lauded Bayan Muna for taking a stand against impunity but stressed that President Benigno Aquino III himself must take concrete steps in stopping extrajudicial killings. 

“The Philippine Congress has sent a much-needed signal that the country’s culture of impunity for extrajudicial killings needs to come to an end. Now it’s up to President Aquino to translate that signal into meaningful action,” HRW said in a statement.  

HRW said these are the steps the executive department must take:

  • Aquino should publicly denounce local anti-crime campaigns that promote or encourage unlawful use of force
  • Aquino needs to direct the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation into such killings in Tagum City, and elsewhere in the country
  • The Justice Department needs to ensure the safety of witnesses and relatives of victims to help ensure successful prosecution in such cases
  • The Commission on Human Rights can raise public awareness by organizing public hearings on death squad killings in Tagum and elsewhere, and the alleged involvement of local officials

The HRW report says the Tagum Death squad initially operated as a crime-fighting group “patterned after the death squad in nearby Davao City, which propelled the city’s mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, to national fame.” (READ: Gunslinging messiahs)

However, Zarate and Colmenares, in their resolution, said the killing of local journalists critical to local officials in the area “discredits the claim that the (death squad) aims to get rid of criminal elements in Tagum City.” 

Victims of the death squad allegedly include a 9-year-old boy accused of stealing money and phones from a store at the Trade Center in the city. 

Uy has denied the allegations. In an earlier interview with Rappler, he said the death squad does not exist and the report is a result of a “conspiracy” against him. 

Read the House resolution below: 

House Resolution 1222

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