extrajudicial killings

CHR flags General Santos City for highest EJK numbers in Soccsksargen

Rommel Rebollido
Data indicate a dramatic rise in General Santos’s suspected EJK cases from January to June this year

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has flagged General Santos City for topping the numbers of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in Soccsksargen, or Region 12.

The CHR said General Santos City accounts for most of the EJK cases in the region since 2016, followed by the provinces of North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. The bulk of EJKs in the city happened this year.

Keysie Gomez, CHR spokesperson for Region 12, said there have been 56 EJK cases in General Santos since 2016.

North Cotabato trailed with 45 EJK cases, closely followed by Sultan Kudarat with 44, said Gomez, citing records from CHR-12’s investigation division.

Data indicate a dramatic rise in General Santos’s suspected EJK cases from January to June this year. Of the 59 cases since 2016, authorities documented 41 gun attacks, including 26 that resulted in deaths, during the first six months of 2021. The shootings also left at least 15 people wounded. The latest shooting incident was recorded on August 1.

But the city’s police chief, Colonel Gilbert Tuzon, dismissed the CHR’s claim, saying that none of the shooting deaths that took place in General Santos have been established to be EJK cases.

Many of the shootings were carried out by still unidentified gunmen riding in tandem on motorcycles.

Lawyer Erlan Deluvio, CHR director for Region 12, said at least 200 EJK cases have so far been documented by the Commission throughout the Soccsksargen region since 2016 and these were included in a document submitted to the United Nations (UN).

Deluvio, however, said, “We appreciate and acknowledge the steadfast dedication of the PNP leadership to deter crimes and end criminality in the city, particularly with the recent developments now.”

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Disturbed over the rising cases of shootings in General Santos, the City Council summoned Colonel Tuzon in July, but the supposed inquiry on the gun attacks turned into a discussion about the local police’s unpaid electricity bills.

Lieutenant Clarizel Perez, the spokesperson of the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO), said 22 of the 41 shooting incidents this year were considered solved, with suspects identified and charged in court.

Colonel Tuzon maintained on Friday, August 7, that there was no evidence that the shooting deaths were EJKs or state-sponsored.

Rather, he said, the series of gun attacks were carried out by people with scores to settle due to land disputes, other personal grudges, and rivalries among General Santos’s drug dealers.

Tuzon also said many of those killed had histories of involvement in the local illegal drug trade.

Meanwhile, the local police’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS) said it has started looking into the way the investigations were being carried out.

The IAS chief, lawyer Richard Opinion, said it is conducting a performance audit of the GSCPO, with a focus on the police investigations into the gun attacks, so that citizens would be assured that law enforcers and investigators were doing their work properly.

“We want to know where they (the police) are now in their investigations,” he said.

Opinion also rejected assertions that investigations could not proceed because there were no witnesses or suspects could not be identified.

He said the excuse only highlighted the importance of improving investigative and case buildup work.

Dili ni puwede mapasagdan kay wala’y suspek, wala’y motibo,” he said.

(Investigations should not be discontinued just because suspects could not be identified, and motives could not be determined.)

Opinion, however, said the GSCPO has been exerting efforts to maintain law and order in General Santos.

The city, with a population of close to 700,000, has eight police precincts covering 26 villages.

Police officials said GSCPO was undermanned with only 944 police officers.

Lieutenant Perez said measures were now being undertaken to prevent more gun attacks from being carried out in the city.

The measures include categorizing the city’s crime-prone areas and placing them under several monitoring zones.

Each zone, she said, would be directly under the supervision of GSCPO deputy directors and other key officials to ensure that tighter security measures would be in place and that the operations would be sustained. – Rappler.com

Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.