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Ex-mayor denies masterminding death squad

June 2, 2014 · 

By Ben O. Tesiorna

Thursday, May 22, 2014

THE Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international human rights group, accused former Tagum City Mayor Rey “Chiong” Uy of masterminding the death of hundreds of suspected criminals from 2007-2013.

This was however denied by the former mayor who blamed illegal drugs and illegal gambling syndicates for paying the so-called death squad members interviewed by HRW for their report.

In a 71-page report entitled ³ŒOne Shot to the Head¹: Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines”, HRW stated that 298 murders were attributed to the so-called Tagum Death Squad from January 2007-March 2013 at a time Uy was still the mayor of Tagum City.

The report details the involvement of local government officials, including 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.

The report said that Uy “helped organize and finance a death squad linked to the murder of hundreds of residents.”

Phelim Kine, HRW deputy Asia director, said the former Tagum City mayor called the death squad victims as “weeds”. The ³weeds² of Tagum society are namely suspected petty criminals and drug dealers, as well as street children.

The report said that “since 1998, when he was first elected Tagum City¹s 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.”

They said they wanted to clean up Tagum, to bring change to Tagum, so that bad elements would think twice in coming in because they would end up dead in Tagum,” stated Romnick Minta, former member of the Tagum Death Squad, in the HRW report.

The former mayor however claimed that the supposed witnesses interviewed by the HRW are “paid by certain individuals to make up stories” against him.

This death squad does not exist. The killings in the city have many factors including revenge and business rivalry, Uy was quoted as saying.

The former mayor said he suspects that syndicates running illegal drugs and illegal gambling in Tagum city could be behind this latest accusation against him.

“They don’t want me to return to power because if I come back, they will lose their businesses,” he said.

He said illegal drugs alone earn as much as P300,000 a day in Tagum City.

He said drug users in his city are as young as 11-12 years old.

As to the killings, Uy blamed it to crime gangs rivalry or vengeance from crime victims. Uy was Tagum City mayor from 2004-2013.

Human Rights Watch interviewed former death squad members who revealed that those who refused to carry out orders, sought to quit, or otherwise fell into disfavor were themselves likely to become death squad victims.

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.

“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,” the HRW report stated.

The death squad allegedly 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.

Former Tagum Death Squad members told Human Rights Watch that the unit was paid 5,000 pesos 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.

The report stated that targeted killings have continued but with less frequency since Uy stepped down as mayor in June 2013. 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.

Incumbent Tagum City Mayor Allan Rellon vehemently denied the involvement of his administration to the recent 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.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 23, 2014.


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