ISSUES: Extrajudicial killing; police negligence; right to liberty and security; children; administration of justice.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes with deep concern regarding the continuing failure by the police and the local government to ensure protection and prevent the systematic murders in General Santos City. At least 29 persons, five of whom are minors, have already been killed from February 4 to May 16, 2008 and dozens of others that remains largely not documented. While this appeal is being written, more murders have taken place there.
At the latter part of 2007, there have been increasing incidents of motorcycle thefts wherein their drivers are subsequently and systematically murdered before their motorcycles are forcibly taken from them in General Santos City, Southern Philippines. All these cases, however, remained unsolved by local police authorities. Though the police claimed to have identified the group responsible for these robberies, they have not been able to ensure that they are arrested and effectively prosecuted.
In the said city, private motorcycle drivers are not allowed to carry passengers for a fee because they have not been issued with any franchise, nor given authority by the government to operate as public transport. However, private motorcycles are noticeably seen collecting passengers as this is the only available means of transport during nighttime in most areas there. This, too, has in fact become a means of livelihood to a large number of locals there. It is these circumstances though that has placed them extremely vulnerable to robberies.
Though these incidents have continued unabated since February, the number of drivers who have fallen victims to motorcycle thieves and killers has been increasing by the day. Base on available documented cases so far, from February 4 to May 16, 2008, at least eight motorcycle drivers have already been murdered in separate shooting incidents. However, at the height of the robberies and murders, the local police has been trying to downplay its scale declaring them as: "isolated cases"
The local police too, particularly the head of the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO), has instead put the blame on the victims themselves by continuously ferrying passengers which attracts robbers. Despite the robberies and murders taking place systematically, they had been unable to initiate adequate and effective measures to ensure these robberies and subsequent murders are prevented. Or, those who are vulnerable persons could avail some sort of a protection.
As these motorcycle murders continue unabated, sometime in February 2008, the local police gave an ultimatum to their local commanders to solve these cases and to subsequently arrest those responsible. It is reported, however that in the process the police has been able to draw up an alleged list of persons they suspect of involvement in these robberies and murders.
A few weeks later, not only motorcycle drivers have fallen victims to these robberies and subsequent murders; however, dozens of other persons have also been shot dead almost daily in General Santos City. Some of the victims are reportedly amongst those included in the police's list, including a 16-year-old boy (Please see Case No. 9 above).
The police, however, are denying any involvement in these murders of alleged criminals; nor the existence of hirelings there.
Instead of ensuring that the police effectively investigates and ensures those responsible for these murders and motorcycle robberies--the city mayor Pedro Acharon Jr. had openly, in absence of any sufficient proofs, endorsed the police' theory that the alleged criminals could have been also murdered by their own group members (Please see Case No. 8 above). Neither Mayor Acharon nor the local police had given any reasonable and credible proofs that those persons, whom they accused as criminals, actually had links with each other.
In March, the AHRC raised serious concern about Mayor Acharon's statement (AHRC-STM-079-2008) and the manner by which the police handles these cases. It also warned the consequences that the perpetrators would be emboldened to commit more murders with impunity; and that it would become a convenient excuse for the police authorities there, instead of being held responsible to ensure protection of lives and protection, to exonerate themselves.
The responsibility by the Philippine National Police (PNP) is clearly stipulated in Republic Act 6975, section 24, of the police' powers and functions (read the full text). They are supposed to ensure the protection of lives and property of the people, ensure public safety, and to investigate and prevent these crimes.
Also, under Article 6 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which the Philippines is a state party, it clearly states that "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life".
(read full text) The protection of persons from being arbitrarily deprived of their lives is an utmost State responsibility.
The General Comment No. 6 1982 by the United Nation Human Rights Committee, par. 3, also stipulates that: "the protection against arbitrary deprivation of life which is explicitly required by the third sentence of article 6 (1) is of paramount importance.
The Committee considers that State parties should take measures not only to prevent and punish deprivation of life by criminal acts, but also to prevent arbitrary killing by their own security forces (sic)". (read full text)
However, neither the local police nor the local government has been able to ensure by taking effective and adequate measures to prevent these robberies and murders from taking place; and that persons are not arbitrary deprived of their lives without due process and on pretext of their supposed involvement in criminal activities.
Below are names of the victims (of systematic murders and arbitrary deprivation of life) and brief details of their cases. These, however, is a small fraction of what is actually taking place;
MOTORCYCLE DRIVERS MURDERED:
1. DANNY RAMIREZ, 45 years old: He was murdered on April 27 in Barangay (village) Labangal. He was a lone bread winner and father of five children who tried to earn a living but he himself had become a victim. He had just come from their place when he was followed by the perpetrators who shot him on his way to ferry passengers. Danny's wife, Delia and his children are now forced to survive and carry on their lives by themselves.
2. STEWARD DEVENAGRACIA, 22 years old: He was shot dead by one of his passengers on April 21 in Barangay Labangal. He was last seen ferrying a female passenger from a wharf in Makar, of the same village, before he was found dead. Usually drivers are not suspicious of female passengers though. The attackers also stole the motorcycle he had had just loaned.
3. ROMY ARISTOTELES, 33 years old: He was killed on April 9 at 8:30pm at corner Magsaysay Avenue and Salazar streets, a usually crowded place in downtown area. A lone gunman, armed with a .45 caliber pistol, shot him from behind and calmly walked away after the shooting.
4. JUN VILLAMOR: He was shot dead on April 1 by two of passengers who allegedly tried to steal his motorcycle along San Pedro Street, Mateo Road, Barangay (village) Bula. Witnesses heard gunshots before he slammed his motorcycle underneath the back of a utility vehicle parked along a roadside. The two attackers, one of whom was seen having difficulty of walking were able to escape.
5. DANILO BACTOL, 45 years old: He was found dead on March 10 in Purok Bulaong Extension, Barangay Labangal. He was last seen ferrying two other passengers before he was murdered and his motorcycle stolen. He had fatal gunshot wounds to his belly and back.
MURDER OF ALLEGED CRIMINALS:
1. RUEL MEDRANO, 22 years old; of Purok San Roque, Barangay Labanga. On May 17, he was seen eating a snack in one of the stores when gunmen shot him dead. The gunmen, armed with a .45 caliber pistol, had approached the victim unnoticed, shooting him on the head at close range. Three slugs from a pistol were found from the crime scene. He had been involved previously on theft for stealing a phone, which has been returned to the owner.
2. BEMBO APONESTO, 31 years old; of Purok 2, Rajah Muda, Barangay Bula. On May 17, he was standing just outside the house of his friend when he was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Two gunmen, carrying a .45 caliber pistol, were seen approaching him before they shot him. The community police, however, claimed Bembo had previously been detained in their police station for committing an offense.
3. ALFREDO SECUVA JR., 17 years old; of Zone 3, Block 0, Barangay Fatima. On May 16, he was playing basketball in a crowded place when approached by gunmen who shot him twice. Two slugs from a .45 caliber pistol had been recovered from the crime scene. There were suspicions that he had been involved in illegal drugs after having been swayed by his friends and he could have been killed by "hired killers".
4. RENE TALUNA, 24 years old: On May 14 evening, Rene had just come from the public market where he was selling charcoal when the attackers shot him soon after arriving at his place in B'laan Village, Barangay Labangal. The two suspects, riding on a motorcycle, had followed the victim before shooting him dead. He suffered gunshot wounds to his head and chest. The community police there, once again, claimed Rene had cases of theft and robbery in their office.
5. EPEDILITO VALLENTI, 18 years old: He was shot suddenly by a gunman on May 12 just outside his place. The gunmen, who had approached him as he was standing, shot him to his head and neck. The attackers, riding on a motorcycle, were seen shooting the victim soon after coming close to him.
6. ROGER BAGALANGIT, 23 years old: He was shot dead on April 20 in front of his sister, Resalie, after coming out from a village where they had come for a drink along Jhonny Ang Paradise. They were waiting for a ride on their way home, when one of the attackers, armed with a .45 caliber pistol, suddenly appeared shooting Roger to his forehead. He died on his way when taken to the hospital. The police', instead of investigating who are responsible for his murder, looked into whether the victim had a criminal records or not.
7. JONATHAN LANCISO, 30 years old: On April 18, he was with a crowd of people watching volleyball game when two gunmen, armed with .45 caliber pistol, approached shooting him to his forehead in Sitio Lanton, Barangay Apopong. None of those who had seen the shooting, however, had come forward to identify the two attackers. His wife, Agnes, had no idea to what could have been the motive in her husband's murder. Jonathan had been detained but was released after having been falsely charged for theft of firearms.
8. GABRIEL SINTOSAS, 23 and EMERSON ESTOCADO, 21: Gabriel and Emerson were killed on March 19 in Purok Malok and Purok San Roque, Labangal, respectively. The police had quickly made public pronouncement the two had been killed over suspicions that they could be involved in a series of motorcycle robberies.
9. ROLEN DAGANIO, (a.k.a dugong bunso), 16 years old: He was with two of his relatives March 18, around 9:55pm along Barangay City Heights when he was shot dead by unidentified gunmen riding on motorcycle. His uncle, Rogelio Inconcillano, and cousin, Rember Nunez, said attackers shot him as he was standing at the roadside. Rolen is said to be a recidivist offender and had been detained at police stations in several occasions. The social welfare is supposed to be taking custody of him when he was killed.
10. NASSER KAMID, 28 years old: He was along Amao Road, Barangay Bula on March 7 when the three attackers riding on a motorcycle, armed with a .45 caliber pistol, suddenly appeared and shot him dead. Though the police have yet to conclude their investigation; they however said he had been previously detained at the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol).