Death squad nightmare returns to the Philippines

Ferdinando Marcos’ infamous “special forces” were abolished with the fall of his dictatorship. President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly praised them, and, as mayor of Davao, has apparently re-established them turning the city into a security fortress. In the past week, gunmen have shot eight alleged drug dealers. For Cebu archbishop, the new president has a tendency to change his statements.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Eight suspected drug dealers have died in the past five days on the streets of several Filipino cities in gun battles with Filipino police in what local media call execution-style killings.

This has raised the spectre that death squads, made infamous during the Marcos dictatorship, might be making a comeback at a time that Filipino president elected Rodrigo Duterte (pictured) gets ready to take office. In the past, he has repeatedly celebrated the use of "special police forces".

For his opponents, as mayor of Davao, the new president turned the once crime-ridden city into a security fortress through hundreds of extra-judicial killings.

Police insisted the eight drug suspects were killed lawfully with officers only firing back after being shot at in three separate raids. One raid occurred in Manila, another near the capital and the third in a small town in the northern Philippines.

Gunmen on motorcycles also murdered three petty criminals in Duterte’s hometown of Davao, police said. Senior Inspector Milgrace Driz refused comments, but locals say they were executed.

The gunmen on motorcycles attacked the men on a street and then left. A source claims to have seen at least one gunman with a police radio.

“Police records show these men were pickpockets and burgled cars,” Driz said, adding the deaths could have been due to gang warfare.

When asked if the so-called death squads could have been responsible, she described them as a “myth”. For her, “They don’t exist, it is only you journalists who say they exist”.

After the fall of the Marcos regime, death squads were disbanded. Now human rights activists and international NGOs fear they are making a comeback.

“We fear an erosion of the rule of law. Once that happens, the Philippines will become a Wild West and become totally ungovernable,” said Wilnor Papa, campaign coordinator for Amnesty’s Philippine office.

The president-elect slammed foreign NGOs and the Catholic Church as enemies of the Philippines.

In a verbal attack on the Church, he called it “the most hypocritical institution” and accused some of its bishops of corruption. “You sons of ***, aren’t you ashamed? You ask so many favours, even from me,” he said.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has prepared a response, but has decided not to publish it until the official inauguration on 30 June.

Meanwhile, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said he could not understand the mind of the presumptive president. In a press conference yesterday, Palma said that the latter has a tendency to change ideas.

“The incoming president seems to be a very difficult (person) to assess, I put it that way. He says one thing today, (but) he modifies a little bit the next day,” the prelate said.

Nevertheless, the bishop also supports a recent statement by the Archdiocese of Davao to “respect and listen with humility” to the presumptive president’s words even if it is against the Catholic Church.