The Philippine government should investigate an alleged “death squad” implicated in several hundred killings in Tagum City in Mindanao, said New York-based group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement.
The group said official records it obtained show 298 killings between January 2007 and March 2013 that provincial police attributed to the “Tagum Death Squad,” and for which no one has been prosecuted.
The 71-page report,‘One Shot to the Head’: Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines, details the alleged involvement of local government officials—including Tagum City’s former mayor, Rey “Chiong” Uy—and police officers in the extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, street children, and others over the past decade.
“Tagum City’s former mayor helped organize and finance a death squad linked to the murder of hundreds of residents,’” said Phelim Kine, HRW deputy Asia director. “Rey Uy called these citizens ‘weeds.’ He and other city officials and police officers underwrote targeted killings as a perverse form of crime control.”
Since 1998, when he was first elected Tagum City’s mayor, Uy, along with close aides and city police officers, allegedly hired, equipped and paid for an operation that at its height consisted of 14 hit men and accomplices. Many were on the city government payroll with the Civil Security Unit, a City Hall bureau tasked with traffic management and providing security in markets and schools.
The HRW interviewed more than three dozen people, including surviving victims and their families, witnesses to killings, police officers and former death squad members. The latter described how those who refused to carry out orders, sought to quit or otherwise fell into disfavor were themselves likely to become death squad victims.
The 12 killings HRW documented occurred outdoors on the streets and often in broad daylight. The hit men, wearing baseball caps and sunglasses and armed with .45-caliber handguns, would arrive and depart on government-issued motorcycles. Former death squad members told the HRW that they would routinely inform local police via text message of an impending targeted killing, so the police would not interfere. After the killing, the police in turn would notify them if any witnesses had identified them.
The death squad drew its targets from the “order of battle” or OB, a list of names coming from various sources, including local community leaders, neighborhood watchmen and police intelligence officers. Names of drug suspects were provided by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
The death squad also apparently carried out “guns-for-hire” operations that Uy was either unaware of or did not specifically commission, such as the killing of a journalist, a judge, at least two police officers, and a tribal leader as well as local politicians and businessmen. In several cases, the death squad’s handlers would fabricate drug allegations against the target of a contract killing to justify to Uy their murder.
Former Tagum Death Squad members told HRW that the unit was paid P5,000 ($110) for every killing, which the members would divide among themselves. They said that on at least two occasions, Uy personally paid the death squad members for two killings. A former hit man who was himself attacked by his former colleagues surrendered to the Davao del Norte provincial police and later agreed to testify in a case filed against Uy and others. Targeted killings have continued but with less frequency since Uy stepped down as mayor in June 2013.
HRW said President Benigno Aquino 3rd has largely ignored extrajudicial killings by death squads in Tagum City and other urban areas. Aquino, it said, has failed to condemn local anti-crime campaigns that promote or encourage the unauthorized use of force to rid city streets of “undesirables.” It cited the creation in 2012 of a so-called “superbody” to expedite the investigation and prosecution of cases of extrajudicial killings but which has remained largely inactive even as new cases were reported by Philippine human rights groups.