Pubdate: Fri, 13 Aug 2004
Newhawk: Terry Liittschwager
Pubdate: Fri, 13 Aug 2004
Source: BusinessWorld (Philippines)
Copyright: Businessworld Online, inc. All Rights Reserved
Contact:  1311 E. Rodriguez, Sr. Avenue, New Manila, Quezon City 1112
Fax: (632) 535-9926
Author: Hernani P. De Leon, Mindanao Bureau Chief


DAVAO CITY, Davao Region -- Summary killings, involving shady
characters, are spreading all over the Davao Region. Even as local
media noted vigilante attacks have wasted close to 60 lives already
since January in this city alone, Tagum City officials in nearby Davao
del Norte have reported 26 similar executions since May.

In nearby Davao del Sur, specifically in Digos City, dozens of
victims, mostly suspected illegal drug dealers, died violently since
the late 1990s. Among the neighboring provinces, it was in Davao del
Sur that the death squad's almost weekly killings, outside this city,
were first reported.

Yesterday, the provincial government of Davao del Norte said in a
statement that multi-sectoral groups in the province have organized a
huge rally on Aug. 17, Tuesday next week, to condemn the killings.

The prayer-rally would "put emphasis on respect for life and human
rights and would denounce the senseless killings perpetrated by a
shadowy death squad," the statement said.

In previous weeks, civil society groups here also mounted protests
that criticized the city government and law enforcement agencies for
failure to check these assassinations, generally attributed to the
Davao Death Squad.

Allegedly in existence since the late 1990s, not one member of the
death squad has been identified or apprehended, even under the
administration of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

The mayor has been often accused of coddling the killing group, or
even starting it, which he repeatedly denied. The business sector was
also linked to the death squad but there was neither a trace of its
origin nor its post-assassination activities to support such rumor.

A few days ago, Mr. Duterte lashed back at his critics saying they
should check the identities of those killed since records of the
police were open to anyone even as he warned that criminals hiding in
this southern hub should leave this city as fast as they could by
running, or swimming, to as far as Indonesia.

Mixed Reactions

Not all groups in civil society, however, condemn the killings. The
Church has been previously passive on these incidents until its
leaders issued statements condemning the killings, only once, early
this year. While top officials of local business chambers said the
executions would adversely affect the city's image, individual
businessmen interviewed had been tolerant of the killings.

"We're more confident to operate in a peaceful Davao, free from
criminals, drug syndicates and terrorists," said Robert Te, a trader.

Others, who declined to be identified in this report, were more vocal
in support of the executions provided only criminals were felled.

"It's better to have these killings now than ordinary residents to be
victims later," said another businessman. "I don't think the mayor is
directly involved with the death squad, but just the same, if the
police can't clean this city of criminals, it's good that another
group is doing the cleaning efficiently."

The latest killings involved young men, some in their teens, who were
on the local police's roster of personalities previously involved in
criminal activities. The killings, like in the past, were done even
during day time in crowded places, in their neighborhood, or in their

Mr. Duterte's critics said only the poor get killed by the death squad
and that the list of victims hardly included scions of rich families
that were also involved in drugs.

During his Sunday television program, Mr. Duterte said the allegation
was not true. He also challenged groups, which have denounced the
government on the killing of young victims, to instead join the
government and focus their efforts in the grassroots.

"We should work together to eradicate the problem in those
neighborhoods and depressed communities," he said.

Since last year, the city government has spent a lot of money to help
the poor including projects for street children and rehabilitation of
drug victims, city officials said.

Mr. Duterte said he has hosted a dinner for street children last week
to inform them of his plans that include sending many of them home,
building a halfway house to provide food and temporary shelter to
stowaway children, as well as constructing a city dormitory for
children who would like to go back to school. 
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager