Sep 282014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/05/09MANILA1002.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1002
2009-05-08 09:11
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXYZ0004
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHML #1002/01 1280911
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 080911Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4066
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L MANILA 001002

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/10/2019
TAGS: PHUM PGOV RP
SUBJECT: DAVAO OFFICIALS DENY VIGILANTE KILLINGS, BUT HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION BLAMES MAYOR

REF: A. MANILA 0757 (AMBASSADOR DISCUSSES DAVAO KILLINGS
REPORT WITH HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH)
¶B. MANILA 0563 (BRUTAL MURDER INVESTIGATED AS
EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING)
¶C. 08 MANILA 1790 (DAVAO: A MINDANAO SUCCESS STORY)

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney,
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Concerned about the continued incidence of
vigilante killings in the southern Philippines city of Davao,
the Ambassador dispatched poloff to look into the facts
behind a recent NGO report on the killings (ref A), speak to
public officials and civil society groups about the issue,
and understand how the Mission might effectively support
Philippine investigations into these human rights violations.
The Davao City police chief and Vice Mayor Sara Duterte,
daughter of Davao’s tough anti-crime Mayor Rodrigo Duterte,
both brushed aside public concern over the killings, which
they described as regular murder cases. Civil society groups
in direct contact with victims’ families, however, affirmed
that the vigilante killings are widely known to be supported
by the police and enjoy significant popular support from
average citizens. Lawyers working on these cases, some of
whom expressed concern for their personal safety, applauded
the work of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights to
locate witnesses, collect their testimony in undisclosed and
protected locations, and seek their agreement to testify in
court. The Commission’s Regional Director said that in
private conversations Mayor Duterte all but admitted his role
in supporting the killings. The Commission’s public hearings
in Davao to collect testimony will continue through May, to
be followed by a final report. Pending the report’s
conclusions, the Mission will evaluate how USG assistance can
best support the Philippine government and civil society to
pursue credible investigations into these crimes. END
SUMMARY.

CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS AWAIT HEARING OUTCOME
——————————————

¶2. (C) During an April 23 and 24 visit to the Mindanao city
of Davao, poloff held meetings with key public officials and
civil society leaders to discuss the ongoing incidence of
vigilante killings in the city and understand potential
avenues for a Mission response. In private meetings with the
Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) and the Tambayan
Children’s Center, two organizations that have tracked
vigilante killings for more than 10 years, poloff confirmed
the most prominent facts noted by Human Rights Watch in their
recent report (ref A): there is documented evidence of
hundreds of vigilante-style killings of civilians in Davao
city since 1998; victims are usually petty criminals and
street children; killings are perpetrated in exchange for
payment; police fail to investigate these crimes and protect
witnesses; and the killings have broad public support. CASE
and Tambayan leaders said that many witnesses existed, but
none trusted the police given alleged police complicity in
the killings, making testimony that could withstand court
scrutiny difficult to gather. CASE attorneys and Tambayan
officers said they repeatedly tried to engage Davao’s Mayor
Rodrigo Duterte on the vigilante killings since his election
in 2001, hoping to enlist his support to deter vigilantism,
but Duterte consistently refused to talk to them. CASE and
Tambayan applauded the forcefulness of Philippine Commission
on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Leila DeLima at public
hearings in April, where she challenged Duterte to respond to
accusations of his involvement in the killings. Uncertain
what course of action the CHR would recommend — and worried
about Duterte’s potentially volatile reaction — CASE and
Tambayan leaders said they were quietly awaiting the CHR’s
final report following additional public hearings in May
before deciding on a further course of action.

VICE MAYOR AMBIVALENT ABOUT KILLINGS
————————————

¶3. (C) Key public officials steadfastly denied that vigilante
killings occur in Davao city. Vice Mayor Sara Duterte,
daughter of the outspoken anti-crime Mayor, said the Human
Rights Watch Report on vigilante killings was “exaggerated”
and that most murders in Davao were “love triangle” and
“revenge killings.” She noted the police were doing their
job by sifting through records from as long as 10 years ago
to reexamine some of these incidents to try to obtain leads.
While she stated the issue was being handled appropriately,
Sara Duterte has kept her distance from any involvement in
the issue; she did not attend the CHR’s April hearings, and
acknowledged that she has never met local civil society
groups to discuss their concerns about the killings. As a

shoo-in for her father’s seat in the May 2010 elections,
civil society groups described Sara Duterte as a tough-minded
individual who, like her father, is difficult to engage and
generally unresponsive to civil society.

NOT ENOUGH WITNESSES, POLICE SAY
——————————–

¶4. (C) At a separate meeting, Davao City Police Director
Ramon Apolinario echoed the sentiments of the Vice Mayor.
Davao had a lot of murders, he said, many of which remained
unsolved, but he insisted they were “regular murders” and
killings perpetrated by communist rebels of the New People’s
Army (NPA) against rebel returnees, and could not be labeled
vigilante killings. Apolinario acknowledged that
investigations into the murders were on-going, but said that
a lack of witnesses willing to come forward, lack of witness
protection services, and limited forensics capabilities
hindered progress on these cases. To demonstrate the
importance of witnesses, he raised the March murder of
Rebelyn Pitao, the civilian daughter of a top NPA commander
(ref B), whose chief suspects are members of the Armed Forces
of the Philippines (AFP). In that investigation, a member of
the AFP sought exemption from a summons to testify, fearing
his AFP colleagues who may have been involved in Pitao’s
murder would seek retribution against him if he agreed to
speak. Even with 53 unsolved vigilante killings in Davao
during the first three months of 2009 — nearly 30 percent of
the 2008 total — according to a CASE report, Apolinario was
decidedly more concerned about the NPA threat.

MAYOR ADMITTED COMPLICITY
————————-

¶5. (C) Commission on Human Rights Regional Director Alberto
Sipaco (strictly protect) at a private meeting affirmed that
Mayor Duterte knows about the killings and permits them.
Recounting a conversation he once had with Duterte, who is
his close friend and former fraternity brother, Sipaco said
he pleaded with the Mayor to stop vigilante killings and
support other methods to reduce crime, like rehabilitation
programs for offenders. According to Sipaco, the Mayor
responded, “I’m not done yet.” Sipaco said he repeatedly
attempted to reason with Duterte that the killings were
unlawful and detrimental to society, but Duterte refused to
broach the issue. Sipaco expressed a sense of helplessness
over the killings, as well as concern for his personal
safety, but acknowledged that the CHR was taking its mission
in Davao very seriously. On the margins of the public
hearings, the CHR was working to locate witnesses, retrieve
them in private unmarked cars, collect their testimony in
undisclosed and protected locations, and seek their agreement
to testify. These intense security measures were necessary
to protect witnesses from the police, Sipaco said, who could
seek to intimidate or silence witnesses before they had a
chance to appear in court.

THE MAYOR’S RAGE: A PERSONAL ANGLE
———————————-

¶6. (C) CHR Regional Director Sipaco (strictly protect) noted
that Mayor Duterte’s visible rage against criminality and
drugs stemmed from family history: Sipaco claimed that one of
Duterte’s two sons previously abused drugs, and the Mayor
channeled his anger over his son’s drug use not just against
drug pushers, but also drug users, eventually leading him to
embrace vigilante killings as a means to reduce crime. The
Mayor’s tough anti-crime rhetoric became the hallmark of his
governance style, and Davao residents perceived a marked
improvement in public safety under his tenure, which many
thought contributed to improved prospects for economic growth
(ref C). The city’s government is known to be relatively
advanced among large Philippine cities with regard to its
economic development policies and public services like
housing, drug rehabilitation, and programs for the poor.
With these resources available, and civil society groups like
CASE and Tambayan willing to contribute, the city’s reliance
on extralegal methods to address criminality is misplaced,
Sipaco said, since criminals and drug users could be
rehabilitated. Still, support for the Mayor’s overall
policies comes from a dynamic cross-section of influential
Davao citizens whom the Mayor has recruited as advisors,
including the Regional Chair of the Ulamas League and the
leader of a prominent and wealthy Protestant sect, among many
others. The Mayor’s broad base of support ensures his
enduring popularity among different constituencies, but he
remains ready to counter those who criticize him and
opposition to the Mayor among City Councilors, suffering from
their own scandals, remains minimal.

COMMENT
——-

¶7. (C) While international attention on the killings has been
elevated as a result of the Human Rights Watch Report,
noticeably absent is public outrage among Davao residents.
Combined with Mayor Duterte’s tight control, this public
apathy prevents civil society groups from being more
aggressive in tackling the issue. With the police failing to
make any progress on investigations, the CHR and civil
society groups have become the primary advocates on the
issue. The CHR’s effectiveness — and its ultimate success
or failure — will be determined by its ability to cobble
together enough witnesses to make strong cases. The CHR, in
order to withstand Duterte’s anticipated attacks, must also
successfully marshal support at the national level from the
Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police in
order to push cases forward to prosecution. Following the
upcoming issuance of the CHR report, the Mission will
carefully assess the most viable channels for targeted USG
assistance to help civil society groups, the CHR, or other
Philippine institutions pursue credible investigations of the
Davao vigilante killings.

KENNEY

   

 

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