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iDEFEND condemns death squad mobilization: No way! Not ever!

The In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) condemns in the strongest possible terms the statement and intention of President Duterte to establish a death squad to hound the NPA sparrows. The establishment of a death squad means a unit operating above the law, not subject to rules, accountability, checks and safeguards. This will redound to the further erosion of the rule of law and democratic institutions and normalizes the default Duterte policy of resorting to violence and killing those he perceives to be a threat. Such a State-sponsored and -sanctioned group operating in obscurity and beyond the legal frameworks only extends and exacerbates the existing death squad epidemic and puts all agents of change in the Philippines at even greater risk.

Just as he did two years ago, defining drug suspects as the inconvenient sector worthy of slaughter and programming the police and unleashing death squads to exterminate them, Duterte is again setting up the stage to unleash a wave of killings parallel to the War on Drugs.

By publicly announcing his intent to set up such a unit, he has unwittingly admitted being the architect of the license for mass murder which has caused the deaths of over 27,000 Filipinos. If pursued, this will be another of the President’s extra-legal/illegal acts which bypass existing legitimate mechanisms available to government.

The Philippine Government already has security forces responding to the insurgency. However, instead of pursuing a lasting resolution involving a genuine peace process, Duterte uses insurgency as an excuse to impose dictatorial rule over a terrorized population.

This is reminiscent of one of the darkest periods in Philippine history. Based on records of human rights groups which documented the massive human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship, the dictator’s death squads then targeted genuine agents of change, including priests.

There are currently three contexts in which massive human rights violations are occurring – the War on Drugs; Martial Law in Mindanao and de facto Martial Law in four regions in the Visayas; and now the upswing of wholesale extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture of human rights defenders, political, social, environmental, land rights activists and indigenous peoples leaders.

This has been the president’s principal preoccupation since he assumed office – building state apparatus for dictatorship, controlling government (branches, institutions and LGUs), silencing dissent and crippling democratic institutions. Like the Davao-forged death squads which he brought nationwide that continue to slaughter thousands, a death squad purportedly against NPAs ushers in a new era of conflict and chaos. This is clearly just part of the President’s obsession to intimidate, silence and beat all sectors into submission.

Let us not allow any in this administration to get away with justifying acts that are unlawful, especially those which institutionalize violence in Philippine society.

Uphold the rule of law. End extrajudicial killings. No to death squads.