From March 18 to 22, seven alleged criminals were killed, including a 16-year-old boy, in separate shooting incidents reportedly perpetrated by men riding on motorcycles in General Santos City, the Asian Human Rights Commission said.
It said the police and the city's mayor quickly announced that the killings could have been the result of a conflict within the group of criminals themselves given that they all have criminal records. Mayor Pedro Acharon Jr. was quoted to have told a local television station: "Iniisip namin baka sila, kasi nag-o-onsehan na eh (We think they themselves are killing each other)".
One of the victims, 16-year old Rolim Dagano, was reported to have also been included in the supposed "list" of persons allegedly involved in the theft of motorcycles.
Prior to this targeted killings, murders of motorcyclists and the subsequent theft of their motorcycles has continue unabated—at least ten were reported in January this year alone. Rolim's previous records of theft were also mentioned by the police, apparently to illustrate his supposed connections in criminal acts, prior to concluding their investigation.
However, apart from Rolim, the remainder of the victims were not reported to have been in the supposed list of criminals. Before these murders took place, the city's police chief, Senior Superintendent Robert Po, issued orders to his field commanders demanding that they "dismantle" the group of criminals involved in the theft of motorcycles.
It was after this demand by Po that these murders started taken place. Incidents of victims who are killed inside their residence in the presence of their relatives, outside a chapel and even places close to their residence have taken place. All the perpetrators have gone unidentified and unpunished for these murders.
There were sweeping allegations and immediate conclusions justifying these murders but the police and the city's mayor has not given any reasonable explanations why they themselves had to justify these murders and why this class of people must be, and deserves to be killed. When crimes are committed it is the obligation of the police to investigate and discover those who are responsible. Whether or not the murder victim had a criminal record is no justification for not carrying out a legitimate investigation. Murder is a criminal act and it is the duty of the police to hold those responsible to account.
By failing to do so, they have already denied the victims' families of any remedies, particularly of knowing the circumstances of their loved ones' death. The claims of their relatives that their loved ones were not criminals, were never involved in any criminal activity and might have been killed by mistake are no longer looked into.
The murder of alleged criminals also buries any possibility for them to defend themselves.
Additionally, such killings also force the families of the victim to live with the stigma of one of their deceased member being branded as a criminal. It deprives them of equality before the law and equal protection of the law because the law enforcement authorities and the local officials have themselves justified these murders. They have already concluded they were nothing but "war amongst criminals".
Justifying these murders has given blanket impunity to the perpetrators who continuously shot their targets dead in open public. The police and the city's mayor act by prematurely concluding the reasons for these murders, thereby diluting the notion that the police authorities have a responsibility to investigate all crimes and to punish the offenders.
They have abandoned these fundamental responsibility in protecting the lives of every citizen by not carrying out adequate action to ensure that no one is arbitrarily deprived of his life—whether he or she is a criminal or not.
If, as the police and the mayor have pointed out it is in fact ‘gang warfare’ then the authorities should have a starting point for their investigations. They should be able to find enough information to identify, arrest and charge the perpetrators in court; however, no one in these "groups" have so far been charged for these murders. Thus the credibility of the police and their alleged complicity into these murders by their failure to take action should be looked into.
The police should give explanation on the existence of the reported list and how they came about it. Is the listing of persons as alleged criminals involved in motorcycle thefts a sanction to murder them?, asked the AHRC.
AHRC is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.