What should be a matter of outrage and great moral concern of every Filipino and decent human being is the very recent, well documented revelations by Human Rights Watch, alleging the actions of a death squad in Tagum city, Mindanao where hundreds have been murdered including street children as young as nine years old. The killings were allegedly carried out by hit men allegedly on orders of the former mayor. Each person was killed for a payment of only five thousands pesos (£65).
“One Shot to the Head”: Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines" (see www.preda.org) is a 71-page report released on 22 May, 2014, with damning evidence and interviews with former hit men who allegedly said they were paid by former Mayor Rey "Chiong" Uy to kill anyone they were told to. One text message allegedly set them in motion. They were paid US$110 for every killing and they divided it among themselves, one former hit man said in a taped interview posted on Youtube. The former mayor has denied the allegations.
"Tagum City's former mayor helped organize and finance a death squad linked to the murder of hundreds of residents,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. "Rey Uy called these citizens “weeds”. He and other city officials and police officers underwrote targeted killings as a perverse form of crime control."
Such revelations are not new in the Philippines. Other city officials throughout the Philippines have been accused of using death squads to kill street children and anyone considered a threat or critic of local government. As many as 298 victims have been documented in this Human Rights Watch Tagum report. The report said..."Targeted killings have continued but with less frequency since Uy stepped down as mayor in June 2013".
The Human Rights Watch press release said that "On April 28, 2014, the media reported that the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation had recommended the prosecution of four security guards employed by the Tagum City government for their alleged role in the abduction, torture, and murder of two teenage boys in February 2014. The current Tagum City mayor, Allan Rellon, reportedly told the media that he was "bewildered" by the allegations, saying that, "as a local chief executive, I abhor any form of summary killing."
This is not the first report documenting the dark side of Philippines where government officials, have been accused of using private assassination squads of hit-men that go around on motor bikes killing children, priests, missionaries, pastors, church and human rights workers. This column has documented many of these murders. The Sun Star of Davao has bravely documented many of the death squad murders over the years. Investigations by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights have failed to uncover the killers or those behind the murders.
A prominent columnist in The Philippine Daily Inquirer last 24 May, 2014 defended the death squads and the actions of Mayor Uy and the Mayor of Davao Rodrigo Duterte saying no one in the Philippines is complaining about them except Human Rights Watch. Citizens would have benefited too, he wrote, if the police in Manila had implemented a plan to organize a death squad to eliminate alleged corrupt judges and prosecutors.
The killings are done to drive away begging street kids, create fear and silence critics and defenders of human rights on the pretext of preserving law and order by killing people said to be suspected criminals. Anyone can denounce their neighbour as a drug pusher and it's likely that person would be killed. This is how the tiny minority of wealthy Filipino elites use fear, force and murder to intimidate the people, eliminate rivals, cheat at elections and stay in power through family dynasties. Thus, the one percent can rule the nation as they have always done. The hit-men do it for money and the elites do it for political and economic advantage. They act with total impunity.
The Human Rights Watch report gives credence to the many allegations made by Filipino human rights workers for many years including this writer who exposed a Davao death squad and was sued by the former Davao Mayor De Guzman in 1999, although no allegation was made against him personally. After a harrowing, dangerous year of legal defense, and a scary visit to Davao where a group of street children formed a protective cordon around me at the airport lest the death squad would kill me. I was trying to save them, but they saved me.
Mayor De Guzman withdrew the allegation on the day when I was to be arraigned in the Davao City Regional Trial Court. The intervention of Archbishop Fernando Robles Capalla of Davao persuaded the Mayor to withdraw the charge. The Archbishop's brother Romy Capalla, a human rights defender was assassinated with a bullet to the head last March 2014 in Ilo-ilo for his work defending the rights of small farmers to organize independently of land owners and practice Fair Trade. The sugar mill they operated was burned down destroying their livelihood. No one has been caught for the brutal murder.
A Survey by the Ateneo De Davao University says 98 percent of those polled support the mayor, government and 77 percent support the police. Perhaps they dare not say otherwise. Western embassies have warned their citizens not to visit Mindanao due to the crime rates. The death squads have not deterred lawlessness, only added to it.
Fr Shay Cullen is a Columban priest, working in the Philippines.