FACT CHECK: Did CHR really clear Duterte over Davao Death Squad?

Jodesz Gavilan

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FACT CHECK: Did CHR really clear Duterte over Davao Death Squad?
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar claims the Commission on Human Rights cleared President Rodrigo Duterte of involvement in the Davao Death Squad. A 2012 resolution, however, states otherwise.

MANILA, Philippines – Aside from alleging that money was offered to Senate media who covered the press conference of a self-confessed Davao Death Squad member, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar also claimed the Commission on Human Rights had already cleared President Rodrigo Duterte of involvement in the DDS.

Was Andanar correct about the CHR?

Retired policeman Arturo “Arthur” Lascañas had accused Duterte of ordering summary killings attributed to the death squad during his time as Davao City mayor. Lascañas previously denied the existence of the DDS. (READ: SPO3 Arthur Lascañas: ‘Blind obedience’ ends now)

Andanar, in response to the retired cop’s allegations, said several government agencies already cleared Duterte of involvement and the issue is just “protracted political drama aimed to destroy the President and to topple his administration.”

“The Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Senate committee on justice already cleared the President of extrajudicial killing and his involvement in the Davao Death Squad,” he said during a press conference

While the Senate committee on justice earlier stated there’s no proof the DDS existed, the CHR, on Tuesday, February 21, dismissed Andanar’s claim and said it has not cleared Duterte.

The commission cited its 2012 resolution which found “probable cause” and recommended that the Ombudsman investigate Duterte’s “possible administrative and criminal liability” in relation to the killings under his watch as Davao City mayor. 

Rappler also tackled these CHR recommendations in an in-depth story published June 2016, or 4 years since the resolution was issued. (READ: Davao Death Squad: What ever happened to the investigations?) 

“The continuing pattern of killings and the failure to conduct a meaningful investigation of such incidents can be construed as tolerance on the part of the authorities of the crimes, thereby contributing to the climate of impunity,” the CHR stated in its resolution, citing at least 206 deaths attributed to the DDS from 2005 to 2009.

The CHR, in its latest statement, also reiterated the possible liability of an official who fails to address killings.

“Extrajudicial killings may be committed not only by direct participation but also as a result of the failure of government to investigate and hold people to account,” the commission said.

“Tolerance or acquiescence to the killings is demonstrated by the inaction of state agents. Our previous investigation showed no serious efforts were undertaken to address the killings at the time.”

What happened?

Prior to the resolution, the Ombudsman in 2012 found 21 police officers guilty of simple neglect of duty. It said the “unusually high number of unsolved killings” proved that the cops were “remiss in their duty.”

However, recommended penalties only ranged from one month suspension to a fine amounting to a month’s salary. (READ: Ombudsman suspends cops for ‘Davao Death Squad’ killings)

But what action has been taken regarding the recommendations of the CHR? 

Rappler obtained a letter sent to the CHR by the Ombudsman dated January 15, 2016, which said investigations on the DDS have been “closed and terminated.” 

According to the final disposition approved by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, “no evidence was gathered to support the killings attributed or attributable to the DDS” and the allegations remain as “chismis” (gossip). 

Meanwhile, in May 2016, then justice secretary Emmanuel Caparas said “it’s very difficult to do anything” about the case unless a witness surfaces.

“It’s very difficult to proceed on that basis,” he said in a press conference in May. “There are affidavits but if you want to confirm the affidavit, you have to talk to the witness. But the witness is not there.” 

Now, with two self-confessed DDS members – one of them allegedly close to Duterte – will investigations finally proceed? – Rappler.com   

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.