It is when Davao Death Squad assassins, contract killers, and executioners turn against Rodrigo Duterte that we see a moment of extraordinary bravado. Their first-person eyewitness accounts confirm crimes that have been committed.
They entrust their macabre confessions – and their lives – to one who then becomes enlisted on the same path of danger they had tread. That someone could only be one with a dedicated backbone to ferret out the truth from years of imposed silence in Davao. In 2009, that person was Leila de Lima.
To understand full well the abyss of demonization and prison she was banished into the past six years is to go back to her 2009 investigations of the Davao Death Squad. Before there were household names like Arturo Lascañas and Edgar Matobato, De Lima and the CHR secured the affidavits of confessions from a DDS hitman, a civilian asset of the Davao City police, a DDS civilian killer, and the testimonies of a barangay captain and a barangay purok leader.
To say that impunity was the norm in Davao City is an understatement. Impunity was in fact operationalized systematically. The year before the CHR investigations, the 2008 Human Rights Watch report “You Can Die Anytime” illustrated this so well: “Local police stations are familiar with the gunmen operating in a particular area of the city. Police mobile units are either informed in advance and do not patrol the area where the operation is about to take place, or simply leave the area as soon as a squad arrives. The police serve as a guarantor of impunity.”
Leila de Lima’s CHR was the only government agency in the entire archipelago to take seriously the existence of the Davao Death Squad. Even the Davao City branch of the CHR looked the other way. Impunity + culture of fear was a lethal combination. The local CHR denied the existence of the summary executions. “It always said they had no witnesses to testify,” the HRW report said. But there were.
“Crispin Salazar” (an alias), formerly of the New People’s Army, executed his highly detailed confession at the CHR Central Office in Quezon City. Duterte himself recruited him to the DDS. Crispin related that, “sometimes he killed his victims in front of their parents. The motorcycle he used, as was his .357 caliber gun, was also issued by the Mayor. After he executes his target, he immediately boards his motorcycle and proceeds to the safe house where their leader pays him with a check ‘paid to cash.’ Usually the check was a PNB or Land Bank check with the name of the Mayor.”
“In 1993, they went out on an operation together with the Mayor. Crispin and his group were supposed to be the ones to execute a target but they made a mistake. The Mayor himself chased the target and shot him several times, using up all the bullets in his magazine. After seeing what the Mayor is like when he was angry, all the policemen became afraid of him.”
“Crispin knows that the Mayor then had a drug laboratory in Barangay Barakatan, Toril, Davao City. His partners in the business are Tan and Tata Sala. He was able to go there personally to get shabu for delivery to a mayor of Davao del Sur. They also brought a letter from Duterte.”
“Jose Basilio,” another alias, also executed his affidavit at the CHR Central Office. He was recruited as a civilian asset of the Heinous Crimes Investigation Section of the Davao City police based in Camp Leonor, Quimpo Boulevard, Davao City. Jose described the anatomy of the DDS. At the head was a “hari” (king) who did not show himself at the office. The next in rank, who he named, was the one who relayed orders from the hari. Then there were the troops composed of police officers, among them Arturo Lascañas. The officials were then followed by the so-called “abanteros” or hitmen who were all policemen. Then there were the civilian components carrying out assassination orders. Men embedded in the communities as assets to provide details and whereabouts of targets complimented the civilians.
Jose narrated that, “some of the police members of the office were also given vehicles which were sometimes used in operations. Before operations, the plate numbers are removed or changed. SPO2 Arturo Lascañas had a Hi-lux pick-up painted green with white stripes and with plate number LEL 620. Jimmy Tan had a grey Isuzu Fuego with plate number LEK 714. Jun Naresma also had a grey Isuzu Fuego which used to be owned by the Mayor.”
Jose related all the kill operations he had participated in, including names of policemen involved, the hitmen who pulled the trigger, and the places where these happened. He also described the 6-hectare Laud Quarry and the particular site where dead bodies were dumped and buried.
“Ramon Evangelista” was a civilian killer in the DDS. His first initiation rite as a participant took place outside a store. He positioned himself near the victim. His killer companions then took turns stabbing the victim in different parts of the body. After that “showcase” attack, he was recruited as an asset by identifying potential targets.
In his affidavit, he claimed that, “the city government of Davao was behind the spate of killings. He explained that the so-called Davao Death Squad operated in cells, each cell having four to six members. In a given month, each cell had three targets. The cells were well distributed in Davao City, with each barangay having one cell.”
The barangay captain who testified to the CHR said he personally heard Duterte say that the broadcaster Jun Pala was to be the next target. He also had personal knowledge of the killing of Moncayo, Compostela Valley mayor Joel Brillantes. There were three operatives in the assassination. Immediately after killing Brillantes, the assassins repaired to a restroom where one assassin killed the other assassin.
The barangay captain also knew about the Laud Quarry. He said, “there were instances when victims were simply shackled, thrown into the dumpsite, and buried alive.”
Duterte’s very vicious vilification campaign against De Lima that preceded her arrest, his manipulation of the House hearings that were designed to shame her, the weaponization of the law that created her trumped up charges by the Department of Justice, and the six years of her harrowing incarceration – all these tell us of her success in probing the depth of the Durian Curtain of Impunity in Davao City. No one else had reached that feat of bravado.
For even if mistaken identities were killed, there was no reckoning from state instrumentalities of justice and the law. An incident in the HRW’s “You Can Die Anytime” illustrated the extent of distortion and breakdown in Davao City:
“At around 6 pm on July 17, 2008, 20-year-old Jaypee Larosa left his home in Lanang, a quiet residential neighborhood in Davao City, to go to a nearby internet café. An hour later his family heard six successive gunshots. A neighbor rushed into their house to say one of their sons had been shot in front of the café. Jaypee was taken to a hospital, but was declared dead on arrival.”
“Eyewitnesses said that Larosa had been shot by three men in dark jackets who had arrived on a motorcycle. After they shot him, one of them removed the baseball cap Larosa was wearing and said, ‘Son of a bitch. This is not the one,’ and they immediately left the scene. It appears that the assailants were seeking to kill another man, a suspected robber. No one has been arrested for Larosa’s murder. His family is unaware of the police having taken any meaningful action in the case.” – Rappler.com
Antonio J. Montalván II is a social anthropologist who advocates that keeping quiet when things go wrong is the mentality of a slave, not a good citizen.
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