Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Myths demythified

Kay Seok, a Seoul-based researcher in Human Rights Watch's Asia division, debunked the myths that have surrounded the whole Davao Death Squad phenomenon. In her piece, Davao citizens should reject death squad killings, which appeared yesterday in the Op-Ed page of Mindanao Times, she said the new report the Human Rights Watch released exposed the "myths and justifications that local officials have relied on to avoid any serious investigation into the killings" for what they are: dubious claims that facts could not support whatsoever.

Myth No. 1

The killings are randomly committed by gang members.

Myth No. 2
The victims are all criminals.

Myth No. 3
Davao City is safer with the DDS stalking criminals.

Myth No. 4
The old killings remain unsolved while new ones continue to occur, because of a lack of cooperation by witnesses and families of victims.

Myth No. 5
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte deserves credit for keeping Davao City safe from criminals.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Extrajudicial killings in Davao City: A timeline

There have been many developments since the Commission on Human Rights came here on March 30 to look into the flagrant extrajudicial killings in the city. But I wasn’t able to blog about them because I have been up to something else lately. I am glad, though, that I was still able to keep track of them, thanks to the ever-reliable Google Alerts.

Here then is an attempt to put together the events that ensued since the CHR’s visit:

May 29, 2009 (The day I started to monitor the issue)

CIDG files rap vs Davao Sur Cop

June 1, 2009

The journalist David McNeill visited Davao City and came up with a piece, Tough justice: On the trail of Philippines death squads, which was published in the British publication The Independent and in other international publications as well. (Here, here, here, and here)

June 3, 2009

In response to the allegation that some members of the Davao City Police are moonlighting as death squad gunmen, Davao City Police Director Senior Supt. Ramon Apolinario said DCPO was willing to probe its own cops.

June 4, 2009

UN noted 70% drop in killings. From Malaya: “…Prof. Philip Alston has reported a 70 percent drop in cases of unexplained killings in the Philippines since 2007 when he was sent here by the UN to look into allegedly increasing human rights cases.”

June 6, 2009

“Davao death squad killings have spilled into Cebu,” argued the columnist Juan Mercado in his column, “Cebu’s Death Squad.”

June 14, 2009

RP no longer on UN rights prober’s itinerary, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It said: “The Philippines was no longer on the itinerary of United Nations (UN) official Philip Alston who was preparing to visit other countries before wrapping up his tenure as special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila de Lima said.”

June 23, 2009

Death squad investigation set, reported the Business World. It said: “The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) announced yesterday the formation of an inter-agency task force that will look into the so-called Davao Death Squads (DDS), a vigilante group linked to extralegal killings in Davao City.”

June 26, 2009

ABS-CBN News Online reported: "Top national and local government executives remain in denial over summary executions perpetrated by the alleged Davao Death Squads, the chief of the Commission on Human Rights said Friday."

In the same report, De Lima also announced the forming of a DDS Task Force whose head will be De Lima herself. The Task Force includes representatives from different government agencies: DOJ, DSWD, NBI, DILG, PDEA, BJMP, DND, Human Rights Affairs Office of both the PNP and the AFP.

(This will be updated from time to time.)

Carlos Latuff on DDS

Carlos Latuff–yes, the controversial Brazilian political cartoonist–has made a cartoon on Davao Death Squad and the public’s response to the mayhem this ghostly group is sowing.

Actually, it was I who told him to make one. Our correspondence started when I used one of his cartoons as a logo for Silence Kills!, a blog dedicated to the issue of extrajudicial killings.

Since his cartoons are copy-left (his phrase, not mine), which means anyone can use them with or without permission, I e-mailed Carlos informing him that I’d be using his cartoon Silence Kills as a profile photo of the blog.

He replied:

My dear Philipinian brother,

Thanks a lot for your feedback. You are not only allowed to reproduce this cartoon in particular as any other you may think relevant. My art is your art. And, in the future, if you need any special cartoons for an activity or something, just tell me and I will make one specially for ya.

All the best,

And tell him I did. “What image comes to your mind regarding this issue?” he asked, adding “Try to describe this image…”

I replied:

Here’s the image I have in mind: A crowd cheering over the death of hundreds of criminals allegedly killed by Davao Death Squad. This image is rather like the image you made in which you depicted Alan Dershowitz masturbating when Lebanese are seen dead on TV.

Hence the cartoon above. I love it! It powerfully captures the situation here: When someone’s killed by the DDS, don’t some of us feel happy, overtly or covertly, that the criminals are already gone, and we could now walk along the city streets, even during the night, without fear of having our bags snatched or being knifed for a few hundred pesos?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What do we stand for?

Published in the 5/24/09 issue of Mindanao Times, the article below, which I wrote, argued that the CHR investigation is not so much about them, the criminals, as it is about us, it's about our principles, our belief that Davao City, indeed this nation, is a society where rule of law, not of men, prevails.

Since the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) began on March 30 its investigation on the extrajudicial killings in Davao City, a cloud of doubt hung over the CHR. Many Davaoeños cannot seem to understand why the CHR is investigating the killings in Davao City that, according to the latest count, have claimed more than 800 victims—most of whom have criminal records.

They can’t help asking: Which human rights is the CHR favoring? Is it the human rights of the criminals or the human rights of the innocent civilians? Why shine a bright light on the killings when the city and its citizens are enjoying peace and prosperity? Can the CHR not leave this dark side of the city since Davaoeños can live with it anyway? Don’t these criminals deserve to be killed in the first place?

While Davaoeños asked these questions, they do not frame the debate very well. This gripping issue of our time is not about whose rights should be given more consideration. It’s about what principles do we stand for.

By all accounts, every human being possesses human rights by virtue of their being human. Regardless of one’s class, color, creed, or—yes, criminal record—one has rights that must be respected and protected. These rights include, among others, the right to life and due process of law. These rights are universally accepted and viewed as important—so important these rights are that, no matter the intent, every violation against them is simply unacceptable in a society that claims to uphold the rule of law.

And extrajudicial killing is one such unacceptable human right violation. But it has been difficult for some of us to understand, let alone accept, this because the victims usually involved in these killings were the ones who mess around the law themselves. So how can you grant them the benefit of the law when they do not follow the law? Why respect their human rights when they do not respect the human rights of others?

What more malignant disease a democratic society can have than to harbor such a profoundly distorted sense of justice. Just because a person has flouted the law doesn’t mean punishing him, extra judicially, is justified. Of course, this does not mean that criminals should not be punished. They should be punished because, as Cesare Beccaria explained in “Essay on Crime and Punishment,” “A wrong already committed…ought to be punished…only because it might otherwise excite false hopes of impunity in others.” But the manner of meting out justice is equally important. In other words, the means is as important as the end. The first should simply not be sacrificed at the altar of the second.

Today, we have no king or emperor like Nero who once ruled madly, ordering even the death of his own mother and his wife. Neither are we under the rule of medieval clergymen who subjected the heretics to Inquisition, leaving many a people burning at the stakes. Today, we live in a society where the rule of law, not of men, is observed. It means that there is still a process that we must follow even in punishing the most bestial of crimes. It means that when you commit a crime or is a suspected criminal, you are not punished right away. But rather, you are apprehended, charged, prosecuted, tried, and convicted then punished or acquitted then freed.

That is the process that those who have been killed by the ghostly vigilante group called “Davao Death Squad” should have gone through. That is the process that the CHR found missing in dealing with the criminals. Alas, that is the process that we Davaoeños are willing to give up in the name of peace and order.

Some people do not get the point why the CHR had to investigate what CHR Chair Leila de Lima described as “one of the most audacious violations against the right to life in our times.” Critics of the CHR construed the commission’s move to investigate the spate of killings as cuddling the criminals. They narrowly perceived it as only favoring the rights of the criminals and ignoring the other side of the equation, which is the rights of the civilians. The public inquiry the CHR initiated struck them as disturbing the city’s serene status quo, which Davaoeños currently enjoy. They even branded the CHR Chair as pakialamera.

These critics, however, are off the mark. The CHR is first and foremost for human rights. Its job is to ensure that human rights are always respected and protected, regardless of whose human rights it is. It is thus unwise to berate the CHR when it’s merely doing its job.

I know many of you out there will ask me, “You’re a Davaoeño, don’t you want peace and order?” I am a Davaoeño who also wants to live a peaceful life in a peaceful environment, as do other Davaoeños. None of that means we should be mum about the killings happening in our own backyard, or remain a “bystander,” as Bro. Karl Gaspar put it.

Our silence is more than an admission that the killings are just all right. It is as if we Davaoeños take the Machiavellian dictum, “the end justifies the means,” to heart—and take it fanatically.

Is that what we stand for, really?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Davao Death Squad's presence brings no good

Whether in the digital or in the real world, it is not rare at all to read or hear words of praises for the (dis)service the Davao Death Squad (DDS) has been doing for the city. In YouTube, for example, where a report on DDS by Chris Rogers of ITV-CNN is posted, one reads from a certain darkskyBAO this comment:
I'm a firm believer when it comes to absolute justice. Despite many would detest their disapproval over the "shadowy" group we have to admit that the things they do greatly benefit the safety and order of Davao. The end justifies the means; all criminals no matter how big or just petty hooligans, be it a underage delinquent or not as long as they are deemed a threat in the face of our country. We must not hesitate more. I wish some one like these would be placed in Sulu and Metro Manila.
Many people--Davaoeños and non-Davaoeños alike--share this most cherished belief of darkskyBAO. Since the DDS, they are led to believe, started to complement or take over--not sure which one--the job (that of busting criminals) that solely belongs to the state, the crime rate in the city decreased. No less than the city government is proud of this feat.

But has the city's crime rate really dropped down since DDS began its operation?

No, said Human Rights Watch in its report "You Can Die Anytime." Rebutting the city's claim that "From a 3-digit crime rate per 10,000 people in 1985, Davao has reached an almost Utopian environment with a monthly crime volume of 0.8 cases per 10,000 persons from 1999 up to 2005", the HRW report said:
These descriptions attempt to conceal a rampant crime wave—namely, the murder of hundreds of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children.

More importantly, by averaging out years of statistics and omitting most recent years, they belie the city’s sharp upward trend in crime rates over the last decade. According to statistics from the police, between 1999 and 2008, the population in Davao City grew from 1.12 million to 1.44 million, or by 29 percent. Meanwhile, the number of annual crime incidents during this period rose from 975 to 3,391, or by 248 percent.21 These numbers show that, contrary to the city government’s self-proclaimed success, its tough anti-crime campaign has failed to curve crime rates. An increasing number of death squad killings appears to have contributed to worsening crime rates in the city.
If it were true, and I believe it is, it only shows that, contrary to many a people's belief, lawlessness only breeds further lawlessness. So we must disabuse ourselves from thinking that the presence of DDS is good because, in reality, it's not.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Prologue: Silence Kills!

Max Soliven once described Davao City as an "Oasis of Tranquility and law and order in troubled Mindanao." But from this oasis of tranquility and law and order emanates a stench, that being extrajudicial killings.

Here many have been killed without the benefit of the law. The culprit? Reports after reports point to the bonnet-less, leather jacket clad, motorcycle riding men, as the ones responsible for all of this. This ghostly group is called the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

The statistics of those killed by the DDS is steadily rising. According to Fr. Amado Picardal, spokesperson of Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE), "For over 10 years, the number of victims of the so-called DDS has reached 890 (from 1998 to March 2009). “Most victims of death squad killings,” the New York-based Human Rights Watch says, “have been alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children. Mistaken identity victims, bystanders, and family members or friends of intended targets have also been killed in death squad attacks.”

But where is the outrage?

More than two decades ago, while in Davao reporting on the carnage waged by the vigilante group Alsa Masa, Sheila Coronel made an acute observation on the public’s response towards the killings. “Often in Davao,” Coronel wrote, “when one asks why certain things are allowed to happen, the queries are shrugged off with a curt “You don’t live here, you don’t know what it is like.””

Again, as Davao City is enthralled by another vigilante group, this time by the DDS, the same thing can be said of the public's response. Amidst everything, you cannot find the outrage. Instead, when you try to raise this issue, the protests are shrugged off with such remarks as: “They’re out there taking care of the criminality. I personally don't have anything against what they're doing,” “These people have been warned before, but they are stubborn, so they have to pay the price.”

But there's a more common response, which is no response at all—silence. When someone’s killed, there are those who might say it’s all right since the one killed is a plague to society anyway. But also there are those who simply keep quiet. They neither accept nor reject the killing. If others express their disgust or support over the killings, there are those who simply don’t say a word. They are just silent.

There lies the problem. Silence may not be the only reason why extrajudicial killings continue, but it does contribute to its perpetuation, for it might be mistaken by the culprits for approval and thus embolden them to kill wantonly.

To reverse the situation, this blog has been put up. The idea of enlisting a blog in this cause is partly inspired by Sheril Kirshenbaum’s movement in the Web, Silence Is The Enemy. Kirshenbaum, a marine biologist at Duke University, said she was “sexually assaulted” in 2006. Too horrified, she neither screamed nor fought back. But she was able to “break away before it escalated to rape.” It wasn’t the first time that it happened in their neighborhood. “I was the third women in the neighborhood to report a similar story to police in two weeks–also the luckiest,” she wrote. Has she remained silent? No. Since then, she vowed not to be “a silent witness to rape.”

Thus, she set up Silence Is The Enemy “to help a generation of young women half a world away.” “The movement,” she said, “began a couple weeks ago after I was feeling particularly outraged after reading Kristof’s terrific NYTimes piece.”

Meanwhile, this blog is called Silence Kills!—so named to impress upon the people that being silent only brings more harm than good, that the more this problem is ignored, the worse the situation will become. Silence kills!

In Davao City, many things go by unnoticed, including extrajudicial killings. But here it won’t. Here we’ll talk about it. Here we’ll speak up against it.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves: Why must we care? We must care because while extrajudicial killings put a spurious order on the streets, as the oft-cited exchange in the play A Man For All Seasons reminds us, we can’t cut a great road through the law just to get after the Devil, for when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on us — where would we hide, the laws all being flat.

“This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down,” St. Thomas More intoned, “and you’re just the man to do it, d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

For our own safety’s sake, break the silence. Speak out.