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Squad killers' cleansing spree spreads out of Davao - HRW

MANILA, Philippines - Culprit on motorcycle. Attack made on broad day light. Victim's a nobody, usually a young suspected petty thief or a junkie. The recipe for execution is similar to that of Davao City's notorious squad killers only that it does not happen in Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's turf. The elimination of supposed undesirables, vigilante-style, has spread out of Davao City. New York-based Human Rights Watch [HRW] says the cities of Digos, General Santos, and Tagum in Mindanao and Cebu in the Visayas have acquired the Davao Death Squad's style of social cleansing via on-the-spot killing. Successive killings In General Santos, the HRW documented the successive killings of four acquaintances that happened in a span of only two months. First to be eliminated was 38-year-old Danilo Auges, a construction worker who was arrested once for allegedly stealing a cell phone. On May 26, 2008, while he was grilling fish in the yard, a long-haired man who rode a motorcycle approached Auges and shot him once in the back, and twice in the head. Two weeks after Auges' death, his friend Aldrin Alba, 22, was tracked down by three motorcycle-riding men who shot him five times while he was trying to run out the street. The two others, Dodon Barga, 17, and a 20-year-old man only known as “Kawalyan" were both gunned down in July 2008 by the usual suspects: armed men on motorcycles. Mistaken identity Like in Davao City, the supposed killers in General Santos also have a tendency of mistaking innocent individuals for their targets. Relatives of Gabriel Sintasas, a 24-year-old charcoal trader, said he closely resembled his cousin Frederick Lanuy, who was allegedly on the “list" of targeted individuals. Little did Sintasan know that sameness would spell his death. Sintasas was shot dead by armed men on March 2008 after what relatives suspect was a case of mistaken identity. A relative of Sintasas told HRW how the attacker reacted upon realizing he got the wrong guy. “The killer didn’t say anything in response, but he looked at Gabriel in shock, apparently realizing he’s made a mistake." Torture of 16-year-old boy In Digos, squad killers silence drug users regardless of their age. Such was the case of 16-year-old high school student Marco Angelo, who was reportedly turned in by his classmate to the killers before being tortured to death. Marco Angelo was a suspected drug user in his school. His classmate was reportedly a death squad member, whose father was the group’s “handler" or the boss in charge of deploying the gunmen. Angelo was believed to have been forced to squeal the names of other drug users in the community as evidenced by his torture wounds – burns on the chest, a bullet wound under his chin, and knocked-out teeth. Local authorities blamed the teenage killing not on a death squad but on a group of gang members supposedly waging fraternity wars in Digos. In Cebu, Mayor Tomas Osmeña has recognized that the majority of the 202 cases from December 2004 to September 2008 were “categorized as “summary/vigilante style of killings." In his letter to HRW, Osmeña described the usual suspects: unknown, riding in motorcycles, and wearing masks, bonnets or helmets on the lookout for ex-convicts, frat members, or individuals who could be involved in drug syndicates. Culture of denial The HRW observes that like in Davao, there's a culture of denial by local authorities about the existence of death squads in General Santos, Digos, and Cebu. While General Santos Mayor Pedro Acharon and Digos Mayor Arsenio Latasa have been proclaiming about an intensified campaign against users and peddlers of illegal narcotics, they both dismiss reports that death squads are helping in meeting the government's anti-drug goals through the killings. The mayors are also one in stressing that their respective local police offices have nothing to do with the targeted killings. They belie suspicions that the local government could be funding the operations of the shadowy groups. But the HRW quoted an unnamed source as claiming that a local official in Digos had been hiring marksmen to finish off people on the “list" in exchange for P5,000. The pot is doubled when the gunman gets to return with his victim’s ear. Even relatives of Abdul Naser Diamad suspect of the police’s complicity in the incidents. Diamad, a 30-year-old drug dealer who survived an ambush in April 2000, was killed by attackers a year later. Witness accounts pointed to a “known" police officer as Diamad’s gunman but local authorities dismissed the claim. Cebu's Osmeña also denies the existence of a death squad despite his admission of vigilante-style killings in his turf. He says he has no involvement in the killings but admits being “happy" when the number of the city’s criminal dwindles as a result of the spate of unexplained killings in his turf. Words are not enough During her speech at the recently held commencement exercises at the Philippine National Police Academy, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made a clear directive for the PNP to take a much more active role in stamping out the killings. But the HRW thinks the proclamation is insufficient. “Successive Philippine governments, including he current administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, have largely turned a blind eye to the targeted killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, street children," it says. “Such statements from the national government are rare and so far have little effect on the situation in Davao City and neighboring cities…largely because they are not backed by action against the officials directly or indirectly responsible for the spree of killings," the watchdog concludes. - GMANews.TV - Read first part