Group calls on Philippine leader to condemn death squad killings

Group calls on Philippine leader to condemn death squad killingsManila - Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to immediately condemn the existence of a death squad that it said has killed more than 800 people in the past decade in a southern city.

The New York-based watchdog lamented that since it released a report on April 6 on the activities of the death squad in Davao City, 990 kilometres south of Manila, that Arroyo had not spoken about the murders.

"In the face of evidence pointing to local government involvement in these murders, President Arroyo's continued silence could be seen as tacit acceptance of death squad killings," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"If she is serious about shutting down the death squads, now is the time for her to speak out, press for prosecutions and announce measures to help victims' families," she added.

The group's report, You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao, alleged that local police officers and village officials were involved in the killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals and even street children in Davao City.

It warned that the murders by the death squad have steadily increased in past years and have been replicated in other cities in the Philippines, including possibly Manila.

"From two reported cases in 1998, the number rose to 98 in 2003 and 124 in 2008," the report said. "In 2009, 33 targeted killings were reported in January alone."

According to the report, the Philippines' Coalition Against Summary Execution has documented 814 death squad killings in Davao City from August 19, 1998, to February
1 this year.

Pearson welcomed vows by some government agencies and the national police to investigate the Davao death squad and its activities as well as the alleged involvement of police officers and village officials.

But she stressed that Arroyo should be on top of the situation and order the investigation.

Prior to Human Rights Watch's report, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights began an investigation into the alleged killings by the death squad, but the inquiry was hampered by a lack of witnesses due to fear of reprisals.

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