Old pastoral letter cites ‘death squad’ existence in Davao

Old pastoral letter cites ‘death squad’ existence in Davao

Fr. Amado Picardal

MANILA — While Malacañang denied there’s such a “death squad” in Davao city, a church document issued more than 15 years ago cited the existence of the group that carried out secret killings of suspected criminals.

As early as November 2001, the Archdiocese of Davao wrote a pastoral letter,“Thou Shall Not Kill,” in expressing alarm over the spate of extrajudicial killings in the city.

Although it stopped short of linking President Rodrigo Duterte to such killings while mayor of Davao City, the letter deplored his supposed tolerance on “criminal groups like the Davao Death Squad to kill”.

“It is an admission of failure in the fulfilment of its obligation to prevent crime and its recurrence,” part of the statement, signed by then Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, read. 

Duterte has repeatedly denied his involvement in any summary killings as Davao mayor and claimed that the term Davao Death Squad or DDS was only invented by his local political rivals.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported at least 1,424 cases of summary executions in Davao City from 1998 to 2015.

The data does not include those killed in nearby cities where the alleged DDS have expanded.

Redemptorist Fr. Amado Picardal, former spokesman of the Coalition Against Summary Executions, said the victims in Davao City alone also include 132 minors–126 boys and six girls. The youngest was a 12-year old boy and a 15-year old girl, he added.

He said Duterte has been accused of operating a death squad but he has not been prosecuted because no witnesses have come out.

Picardal left Davao City in 2011 after he was reassigned to Manila but he lamented that until 2015, summary killings still occurred in the city.

A retired police officer supposedly confirmed at a news conference on Monday the existence of DDS and implicated Duterte in extrajudicial killings in Davao City.

Arthur Lascañas narrated several killings that Duterte allegedly had ordered. And at one point, he broke into tears when he recalled his role in the deaths of his two brothers because they were drug users.

Picardal said he is hoping and praying that more cops and DDS members will be “touched by their conscience and will have the courage to come out and testify”.

“This will contribute to the stoppage of EJK and hold those responsible for the killings accountable,” Picardal said.

As soon as he assumed the presidency in June last year, Duterte called on the public to help him in his war on drugs.

The crackdown has resulted to at least 7,600 deaths. Authorities said more than 2,500 died in shootouts and legitimate police operations.