Why Leila de Lima was marked for assassination

Unafraid courage. No one else had that but Leila de Lima. Her 2009 investigation of the Davao Death Squad was dangerous and difficult, but she saw it as necessary.

As the world awaits the promulgation of her case this week, Leila de Lima has already won her case, whatever the outcome. To take up Rodrigo Duterte for his extrajudicial killings was a precarious choice, but she did it. Leila was hailed to prison on trumped up charges for it, with the world the witness to her heroism.

In 2011, after she had wrapped up her term in 2010 as chair of the Commission of Human Rights, Leila wrote the full report of the CHR’s investigations on the Davao Death Squad. That report never saw the light of day. The subsequent commissioners after her had instead watered down her recommendations. For six years under the last Aquino administration, even that adulterated report was never acted upon. By the grace of the troll gods, Rodrigo Duterte rose to power in 2016.

From March 30 to 31, 2009, De Lima and the CHR conducted public hearings at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao city. A CHR Order dated March 16 invited public officers, individuals and personalities of the city of Davao to the public inquiry attended no less by Duterte. Other hearings were conducted on April 17, 2009 at Waterfront Insular Hotel, on May 22, 2009 at Royal Mandaya Hotel, and on September 25, 2009 at Grand Men Seng Hotel.

There were close to a thousand killings with a singular distinct modus – gunshots to the head using .45 caliber pistols — in a span of ten years. The hearings immediately parted the resource persons like the Red Sea: local officials and law enforcers who denied there was a Davao Death Squad, and families of victims as well as human rights organizations and some witnesses saying there existed in Davao city a bogus justice system running parallel to the legal criminal justice system.

Reading the De Lima report reveals who among the city’s public officers were either hiding the truth or were in fear of the mayor. They are the people who had no match to her fearless courage. Take note what they told the CHR:

Rodrigo Duterte: “If there is any evidence gathered at the end of the day showing that the Davao City local government or police are involved in the extra-legal killings (ELKs) in the city, he will submit his resignation as Mayor of Davao City. There is no Davao Death Squad. There are no summary killings in Davao city and the reported killings are unexplained and unsolved.”

Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Isaac G. Robillo: “Only one case of summary killing was brought to court, and this was raffled to his sala. This was Criminal Case No. 60736-07 entitled People vs. Dennis Nolasco Fernando and John Doe. It was a case for murder, and the manner how the crime was committed follows the pattern of a summary killing committed by the Davao Death Squad. The DDS exists. Otherwise, the perpetrators of the summary killings cannot act with so much impunity.”

Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa: “There is no direct indication that there is a Davao Death Squad. There are no hard facts yet.”

Davao City Police Office Director Ramon C. Apolinario: “There are vigilante-style killings that were investigated during his term and even in the previous years. The statistics are classified as murder and homicide cases. There is no classification of vigilante killings. With regard to the vigilante killings, there are no witnesses because they are afraid for their lives.”

Clarita Alia, mother of Richard, Christopher, Bobby and Fernando, all killed one after the other: Richard, accused of rape, was stabbed to death in July 2001. Christopher was stabbed to death in October 2001 while eating at a barbecue stand. Fernando, 16, was accused of being involved in a riot; he was peeling cassava at 4 o’clock in the morning when he was killed. Bobby, accused of being a thief, was stabbed to death.

Atty. Edelberto S. Fermil, Region XI Director of the National Police Commission: “As far as the Napolcom is concerned, no complaint has been filed against any police officer in relation to the extra-judicial killings. He does not believe that Mayor Duterte condones the killings.”

City Councilor Carlo Bello: “As Chairman of the City Council’s Civil and Political Rights Committee, he cannot make a confirmation on the existence of the DDS.”

Prosecutor Raul Bendigo: “Where there is smoke, there is fire.”

City Councilor Danilo Dayanghirang, Majority Floor Leader of the Davao City Council: “There is no such thing as a DDS in Davao City. He blames the Pangilinan Law for the rapid increase of crimes involving the youth.”

Police Senior Superintendent Benedicto R. Gorospe, Region XI Chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the PNP: “The CIDG confirms that there has been an almost daily occurrence of vigilante-style killings in Davao City, but there is no directive from higher office how to assist the Davao City Police Office.”

Gabriela Party List Representative Luz Ilagan: “Mayor Duterte is a very colorful personality and how he gets away with his language is part of his charisma. The people have a lot of faith in him.” (My comments: Ilagan remained an acolyte of Duterte all throughout his six-year term as president. Gabriela should have expelled her from its roster. It has not till this day.)

Police Senior Superintendent Aaron Aquino, Chief of the Regional Investigation and Detective Management in Camp Catitipan, Davao City: “Perpetrators of the summary killings are different groups such as gangs, which number around a hundred in Davao City, crime syndicates, and the CPP-NPA.”

Police Senior Inspector Ranulfo Cabanog, Station Commander of the Santa. Ana Police Station of the Davao City Police Office since 2007: “In his opinion, there are vigilante- style killings but there is no proof that a vigilante group exists.”

Sonny Joaquin: “The summary executions are the result of the meeting of the minds of people in government. The police and the military are the hoodlums of the mayor. The mayor can easily give them money. The intelligence coffer of the mayor is 100 million a year. This is for the summary killings.”

“This is not to mention the so-called celebrity killings. There is the killing of the brother of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, which came out in the newspaper. The killer entered the compound of Pastor Quiboloy. If Pastor Quiboloy can afford to disown his own brother, he can disown anybody. There is the killing of Datu Gimo in Tamayong. Datu Gimo was killed because he refused to sell his property. The mayor is practically defending Pastor Quiboloy.”

Sanson “Sonny” Buenaventura, retired PNP officer assigned as driver/security to Mayor Duterte: “He has only heard about the summary killings in the newspapers and cannot remember when these killings started. He also does not know of any drug syndicates or drug laboratory in Davao.”

Rene Estorpe, Punong Barangay of Barangay Centro (Agdao): “He believes that DDS means ‘Dito sa Davao Safe kami (Here in Davao we are safe).’ He condemns the killings but killings happen everywhere, even in the safety of our own homes.”

Aselo T. Torrejos, Punong Barangay of Barangay Sto. Nino, Tugbok District: “He does not believe that there is a DDS until someone admits to be a member of the DDS.”

Erlinda Escasinas, Punong Barangay of Barangay Tibungco: “She maintains that there are no summary killings in Tibungco, despite being confronted with the April 6, 2008 killing of 16-year-old Raymond Adlawan and the May 17, 2008 killing of Rodel Velez, a balut vendor.”

Ramon Bargamento, Punong Barangay of Barangay Mintal: “There were incidents of killings but he refuses to classify them as summary or extra-judicial killings. These are the January 7, 2005 shooting of 19-year-old Kenneth Lumbrang, the May 3, 2006 shooting of Reynaldo Reyes, and the May 4, 2006 shooting of 25-year-old Randy Aguinaldo who just posted bail for theft when men in a motorcycle shot him. Despite these, Bargamento believes that the DDS is just a creation of the media.”

Atty. Wendel E. Avisado: “The CHR insists on the rights of those who have been killed, the City Government insists on the rights of the living. Avisado maintains that he is incompetent to answer the question why despite the peace and order fund and the six awards of the Davao Police Office for Best Unit in the country, Davao remains to be four times more dangerous than the rest of the country in terms of its homicide rate.” (Note: Duterte appointed Avisado in 2016 as presidential assistant for Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation. In 2019, he was appointed Secretary of Budget and Management. He was Davao City Administrator from 2004-2010 under Mayor Duterte).

Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go: “He has read the Alston Report but cannot comment on any of its findings as he has no knowledge of the existence of the so-called death squad or its organizational set-up. He also has no knowledge of the alleged system of lists of targets prepared by barangay officials. He denies having a private army of his own and claims that all he has is a driver.”

Paolo Z. Duterte, Punong Barangay of Barangay Catalunan Grande since 2007: “Paolo was asked about an incident where six young men threw stones at a house of his ‘handler’ and to which incident he allegedly responded. The six men were later killed one by one in a span of three months, the last one having been shot eight times. He denied being involved in any incident relating to the six stone-throwers, claiming that his ‘handler’ lived in Barangay Catigan. He likewise has heard of the DDS only in the news.”

Affidavit of “Crispin Salazar,” a confessed DDS hitman, a former NPA rebel: “In 1993, they went out on an operation together with the mayor. Crispin and his group were supposed to be the ones to execute a target but they made a mistake. The mayor himself chased the target and shot him several times, using up all the bullets in his magazine. After seeing what the mayor is like when he was angry, all the policemen became afraid of him.”

“Crispin knows that the mayor then had a drug laboratory in Barangay Barakatan, Toril, Davao City. His partners in the business were a certain Tan and one Tata Sala. He was able to go there personally to get shabu for delivery to Mayor Claudio Bautista of Malita, Davao del Sur. They also brought a letter from Duterte.”

Crispin also testified in his affidavit that it was the mayor who conducted “job interviews” for prospective vigilante killers in the DDS.

The CHR also had the affidavits of two other confessed DDS hitmen. It also interviewed one barangay chair and one purok leader who confessed to the existence of the DDS.

The De Lima report listed all the leaders in the hierarchy of the Davao Death Squad, beginning with Duterte as “the hari (king), the highest authority of the DDS.” Yet even before the CHR hearings, two other reports had the same findings on the Davao Death Squad: the Human Rights Watch Report “You Can Die Anytime: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao” and the “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, on His Mission to the Philippines (12-21 February 2007)” by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston.

De Lima’s recommendations were unprecedented and fearless: “Declare a state of emergency in the City of Davao on the ground of lawless violence, with the option to call in the armed forces pending the redeployment of a new PNP force to relieve the existing Davao City Police Office; suspend the power of operational supervision and control and deputation as NAPOLCOM representative of the Mayor of Davao City over the Davao City Police Office; initiate administrative disciplinary proceedings against Rodrigo R. Duterte pursuant to Sections 60 and 61 of Republic Act 7160, for culpable violation of Article III, Sections 1, 14, and 19 of the 1987 Constitution, and for abuse of authority, with this Resolution serving as the initiating complaint, and to cause his preventive suspension pending said proceedings.”

On July 5, 6, and 11, 2009, the CHR surveyed the site known as the Laud Quarry after obtaining a search warrant from the court. This was reported to be the DDS killing field. Several human skeletal remains were found, as well as various kinds of bullets.

In a later testimony at the Senate, confessed-DDS hitman Edgar Matobato testified about the Laud Quarry: “In 2003, Ma’am De Lima wanted it exhumed for the CHR hearing, but it did not push through because she had some misgivings out of fear. But she was right because had there been no delay all of them could have been killed. Had they gone further, the assassins in our group were already in a position to ambush and kill De Lima.”

Sen. De Lima then asked Matobato: “Who gave the order to have me assassinated?”

“Mayor Duterte, Ma’am,” replied Matobato.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.