On September 15, 2016, the Senate committee on justice and human rights reconvened to continue the legislative inquiry into the alleged extrajudicial killings surrounding the ongoing war on drugs of the Duterte administration. To date, 3,526 people have been killed from drug-related police operations and vigilante killings.
Below are some points from Matobato’s testimony that can be looked into more closely in coming up with possible policy or institutional reforms moving forward:
1. A death squad is able to operate without being caught nor reprimanded by the police with its goals aligned with that of the government’s (e.g. summary execution of criminals). This is because it is usually headed by a security officer, who is close to the big boss, who in turn is a government official with a vision or policy to carry out. In the case of DDS, it is reportedly headed by a police officer in Davao and the big boss was the mayor, former mayor, and now president, Duterte. It is good to review the generic appreciation of command responsibility and what level of vigilante killings can already be taken against the duty-bearers in a given constituency.
2. There are death squad members who are police officers, but the other members are civilians who usually come from civilian auxiliary units/militias and rebel returnees. In a study conducted by the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) on election-related violence in 2009, we already noted that private armed groups get their recruits from these civilian auxiliary units/militias and former rebels, hence the need to study the relevance of government programs targeting these players.
3. Death squad members can be financed through public funds by becoming ghost employees of the government. According to Matobato, DDS members are “ghost employees” of Davao City Hall receiving between P15,000 to P30,000. Note that some time last year, the Commission on Audit (COA) reported that there are about 11,000 employees in Davao City Hall that could not be accounted for. This shows the link of violence and corruption, with one feeding into the other.
4. In the case of DDS, according to Matobato, there were more people who got abducted and salvaged than those who got killed/assassinated. The number of casualties of the current war on drugs could be more, and the reporting should also include missing people.
5. The police in Davao never successfully investigated/prosecuted any of the killings despite reaching thousands in numbers. There should be clearer and stronger accountability for government’s failure to investigate and prosecute.
6. Death squad members are doing multiple jobs for their bosses, including as household helpers, couriers, bodyguards, etc. Whenever they have no killing assignment, they do other things. They are all-around. This is consistent with our election-related violence study in Abra in 2009. In our study, we noted that the situation of private armed groups can be traced to lack of employment opportunities especially in conflict areas.
7. Those involved couldn’t get out anymore because they will be hunted down by their own comrades. Matobato wanted out and he was targeted. We need to improve our witness protection and ensure that those who will leave their illegal activities can be given due support and if possible, opportunities for redemption.