Tag Archives: Tagum City

[From the web] Dispatches: A Blow Against Impunity in the Philippines -HRW

Dispatches: A Blow Against Impunity in the Philippines
By Phelim Kine

The Philippines Congress took an important step on Wednesday against unlawful killings by local officials by calling for an urgent official probe into “death squad” killings exposed in a recent Human Rights Watch report.


House Resolution No. 1222 directs the Congressional Committee on Human Rights to “conduct an immediate investigation, in aid of legislation, on the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Tagum Death Squad and allegedly created by local government officials in Tagum City, Davao Del Norte.” That resolution extensively references Human Rights Watch’s revelations of the existence, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, of a death squad linked to hundreds of killings in the past decade. The death squad was organized, equipped, and financed by then Tagum City Mayor Rey “Chiong” Uy and elements of the local police and municipal government.

The congressional resolution is a welcome change from the willingness of successive Philippine governments to turn a blind eye to such brutality. First in nearby Davao City and then in other cities across the country, unidentified gunmen often “riding in tandem” on motorbikes have executed petty criminals, suspected drug dealers, and street children in the name of cleaning up the city of its “undesirables.” Mayor Uy used to refer to them as “weeds.” Yet despite the magnitude of the killings, the administration of Benigno Aquino III has never gotten serious about addressing the problem.

The congressmen who co-sponsored the resolution, Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate and Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares, deserve praise for their willingness to challenge the official silence and denial regarding extrajudicial killings. But their stand against impunity demands long-overdue leadership on extrajudicial killings.

Aquino first should publicly denounce local anti-crime campaigns that promote or encourage unlawful use of force. He also needs to direct the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation into such killings in Tagum City – and elsewhere in the country. The Justice Department needs to ensure the safety of witnesses and relatives of victims to help ensure successful prosecutions in such cases. The Commission on Human Rights can raise public awareness by organizing public hearings on death squad killings in Tagum and elsewhere, and the alleged involvement of local officials.

The Philippines Congress has sent a much-needed signal that the country’s culture of impunity for extrajudicial killings needs to come to an end. Now it’s up to President Aquino to translate that signal into meaningful action.

Source: www.hrw.org

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[Press Release] Death Squad Linked to Hundreds of Killings Investigate Role of Tagum City Officials, Police in a Decade of Murders -HRW

Philippines: Death Squad Linked to Hundreds of Killings
Investigate Role of Tagum City Officials, Police in a Decade of Murders

(Manila, May 21, 2014) – The Philippine government should investigate an alleged “death squad” implicated in several hundred killings in Tagum City on the southern island of Mindanao, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Official police records obtained by Human Rights Watch 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 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. The report draws heavily on interviews and affidavits from three self-proclaimed members of the death squad in Tagum City who took part in its killing operations. It also examines the failure of the Philippine government to seriously investigate the death squad and bring those responsible to justice.

“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.”

Since 1998, when he was first elected Tagum City’s mayor, Rey Uy, along with close aides and city police officers, 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.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than three dozen people, including surviving victims and their families, witnesses to killings, police officers, and former death squad members. The former death squad members 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.

“There is compelling evidence of the involvement of Tagum City police and former Mayor Rey Uy mayor in a death squad that operated during Uy’s 1998-2013 tenure as mayor,” Kine said. “The Tagum death squad’s activities imposed a fear-enforced silence in Tagum City that allowed the killers and their bosses to literally get away with murder.”

The 12 killings Human Rights Watch documented typically 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 Human Rights Watch 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.

Those targeted were primarily people that Mayor Uy had declared to be the “weeds” of Tagum society, namely suspected petty criminals and drug dealers, as well as street children. 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 Tagum 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 Human Rights Watch that the unit was paid 5,000 pesos (US$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.

The Tagum Death Squad was initially a crime-fighting group patterned after the death squad in nearby Davao City, which propelled that city’s mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, to national fame. In February 2011, Uy issued an explicit warning to “criminal” elements in the city advising them to “go somewhere else.” A senior official of the governmental Commission on Human Rights described these murders as “silent killings” because they were hardly ever reported in the media.

Local and national authorities have failed to seriously investigate the vast majority of Tagum City’s killings, Human Rights Watch said. While police routinely cite a lack of witnesses to explain the absence of prosecutions, victims’ relatives and witnesses say they fear testifying, largely due to the perceived links of the death squad to local officials.

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.”

President Benigno Aquino III has largely ignored extrajudicial killings by death squads in Tagum City and other urban areas, Human Rights Watch said. He has failed to condemn local anti-crime campaigns that promote or encourage the unauthorized use of force to rid city streets of “undesirables.” A much-vaunted initiative by the administration to address impunity – the creation in 2012 of a so-called “superbody” to expedite the investigation and prosecution of cases of extrajudicial killings – has remained largely inactive even as new cases were reported by Philippine human rights groups.

Other national institutions responsible for law and order, namely the Department of Justice, the Philippine National Police, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the Commission on Human Rights have largely been inactive in combatting death squads.

Human Rights Watch has previously published a 103-page report, “You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao,” on a ‘death squad’ active in Davao City and the government’s failure to investigate the involvement of police and local government officials in targeted killings.

Human Rights Watch called on the Aquino administration to direct the responsible government agencies to take measures to stop the killings in Tagum City and elsewhere, thoroughly investigate death squad killings and the death squads themselves, and bring justice to the victims’ families. Immediate attention should be given to the situation in Tagum City and the role of former and current government officials and members of the police in abuses.

“The Philippine government’s failure to act decisively against death squad killings has certainly contributed to the horrific death toll in Tagum City, “ Kine said. “President Aquino needs to send a loud and urgent message that deploying death squads as a ‘crime control’ measure is unlawful and needs to stop.”

For selected accounts from the report, please see below.

“‘One Shot to the Head’: Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines,” is available at:

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Philippines, please visit:

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[Statement] Humanrights group assails judge for soldier’s acquittal in couple’s slay in TagumCity -TFDP

Humanrights group assails judge for soldier’s acquittal in couple’s slay in TagumCity

The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) assailed the judge for the military’s acquittal over the slaying of the couple Bacar and Carmen Japalali during a military operation headed by Sgt. Serafin Jerry Napoles last September 8, 2004 in Barangay Bincungan, Tagum City.

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In a nine (9) page decision, on October 29, 2013, after six (6) years of litigation Acting Presiding Judge Ma. Susana T. Baua manifested her arguments based on the accounts and testimonies of the accused military and negated the documentary evidences which also corroborated the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses.

This case stemmed when elements of Army’s 404th Infantry Battalion conducted an operation in Sitio Talaba, Barangay Bincungan, Tagum City, Davao del Norte, on September 4 in 2004 in response to a reported presence of allegedly heavily armed men in the area. The operation resulted in the death of the spouses. Both succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds at the different parts of their bodies. Bacar died on the spot while his wife who was able to shout for help was also gunned down by the military. She was rushed to the hospital but later died due to severe gunshot wounds and massive blood loss.

The court quoted the testimony of Dr. Arnel Florendo, Medical Officer V of Tagum City, Davao del Norte Health Office, who examined Bacar’s body while still in the house. It was stated that the “victim died of massive blood loss due to gunshot wounds”. He found wounds on the right arm of the deceased, at chest level as well as in the lower back of the body, above the hips. The left leg was fractured, broken and twisted. All in all there were five wounds. He did not retrieve any slug from the body of the victim. This testimony was supported by the Certificate of Death previously signed by Dr. Arnel Florendo on September 9, 2004.

The qualitative examination conducted by the SOCO on the pair of paraffin cast taken from both hands of the victim yielded a negative result to the test for gunpowder nitrates. The court also cited the testimony of Dr. Bernardo Adolfo, Jr., Head of the Department of Surgery of the Mission Hospital, who attended to Carmen Japalali when she was brought to the said hospital at 6:00 a.m. of September 8, 2004. Carmen was almost dead when admitted and actually expired after approximately one hour.

Carmen died of massive loss of blood due to gunshot wounds. She had multiple injuries and fracture on her back. Her feet also had fractures. This testimony was also supported by the Certificate of Death previously signed by Dr. Adolfo on September 10, 2004.

These evidences clearly shows how the victims were killed, but the court did not give weight to the evidences at hand but rather argued that “Sgt. Napoles and most of his men seem to be battle-hardened veterans. Being such, they could not be expected to fire their guns on the mere shout of Sabellano (one of the soldiers) that he saw a gun; there is probability that indeed, they were fired at before they opened fire themselves”.

The reasoning and argument of the court totally disregards human rights. Right to life is inviolable and even in extreme emergencies cannot be derogated. Why does it seem that it is being justified in this case?

In the case of Carmen, it was clearly presented and stated by the prosecution witnesses that while
she was shouting for help, she was shot by the military at the back. Still, the court ignored the testimony of the witnesses which was supported by documentary evidence. No one was held liable.

This case totally demonstrates how the court which is tasked to impartially dispense justice deprived victims of human rights violations in obtaining justice. This case, like that of the Capion massacre in Davao del Sur which was dismissed by the Prosecution’s office, is clearly an example of how the culture of impunity exists in the country. The case at hand clearly identified and established the perpetrators of the crime and yet
justice remained elusive.

Are we to believe that the judiciary is condoning injustice? Or was the judge among those who are afraid to implement the law because the accused were military personnel? The acquittal of the military in this case does not show otherwise.

Ms. Rita M. Melecio
Deputy Executive Director
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
# 45 St. Mary St., Cubao, Quezon City
(02) 995-0246/ (02) 437-8054

November 14, 2013

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