Philippines: More Duterte Death-Squad Links Revealed

Photo credit by TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

President Rodrigo Duterte‘s ultra-hardline anti-drug policies took center-stage in the Philippines last week as the country’s Senate held televised hearings on the matter.

By now, the National Police force has acknowledged that its troops have killed 1,506 suspected drug dealers or users since Duterte took office in June. (Amnesty International, adding those killed by unaccountable “vigilantes,” puts the figure at 3,000.) Duterte openly boasts that the killings will continue. The hearings heard impassioned testimony both for and against this lawless crackdown.

One explosive moment reported by the New York Times was the confession of Edgar Matobato, who said he had served as a hit-man in a death squad overseen by Duterte in Davao City—where he had long served as mayor, and where his local reign of terror provided the model for the current national crackdown.

Matobato said the death squad, known as the Lambada Boys, had killed hundreds over the years and that he had personally participated in some 50 murders. One victim was fed to crocodiles, he said, while others were hanged and thrown into the sea. Matobato estimated approximately 1,000 criminal suspects and political opponents were killed by the Lambada Boys and related outfits—collectively known as the Davao Death Squad—in the years Duterte was mayor.

“We were tasked to kill criminals every day,” Matobato explained.

And Matobato made it clear that Duterte, elected mayor in 1988, was the man in charge of this campaign of murder—he even said that he had heard Duterte personally order killings. He also said that in 1993, he watched Duterte shoot to death an agent of the National Bureau of Investigation with an Uzi submachine gun. Reports on the shooting at the time did not mention Duterte, and the president’s office denied the charges.

Whatever the truth may be, it is certainly grim. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights found that the Davao Death Squad killed 206 people between 2005 and 2009.

Sen. Leila de Lima, a longtime rights advocate who chaired the hearings, stated: “Perhaps we can link what is happening now to what happened in Davao City in the 1990s until the present, and how the Philippines now mirrors the city of Davao under the two-decade rule of Mayor Duterte.”

Duterte, of course, accuses de Lima of taking bribes from drug lords, the LA Times noted.

Complicating things is the widespread support Duterte continues to get from the Philippines left. He has won popular plaudits by pledging to restart the peace dialogue with the communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas—officially launched in the ’90s but long stalled. He even appointed an NPA veteran to his cabinet. Duterte’s government and NPA representatives met in Oslo on Aug. 26 to sign a formal bilateral ceasefire in preparation for new talks. As a gesture of good faith, the NPA released three police officers they had been holding. 

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the civilian left-wing alliance that is representing the NPA in the peace process, is pretty openly enthusiastic about Duterte. It went so far as to issue a statement praising Duterte for his controversial tirade against Barack Obama after the U.S. president raised human rights concerns about his rule. (Amuslingly, the statement actually uses the word “tirade” to refer to Duterte’s remarks, even while “lauding” them.)

The statement read: “U.S. imperialism’s sham ‘concern for human rights’ is being challenged with open hostility by a government it considers its reliable lackey. The U.S. government should be reminded and brought to justice for the millions of deaths in its hands, perpetrated in the name of consolidating its imperialist power over other sovereign states.”

The “tirade” the NDFP is defending apparently included calling Obama a “son of a whore”—although Duterte later said that he had actually been refering to the reporter who had asked him about Obama’s criticisms. This was among a series of tirades in which Duterte blasted the U.S. for its double standards on human rights.

And indeed police terror is a grave problem in the U.S.—obviously. But how exactly does that let Duterte off the hook? The same human rights groups now raising the alarm about his government have been harshly critical of the wave of police killings in the United States.

A peace deal with the NPA would be a good thing, of course. But while Duterte is broaching peace with the communist rebels, he has declared a “state of lawlessness” (an ill-defined variant of martial law) over Islamist terrorism in Mindanao, the southern island where Davao is located. And, ironically, a key demand of the NDFP and other advocates of a just peace in the Philippines is an end to the paramilitary terror being unleashed against ecology activists and peasant leaders who are standing up to mining, logging and agribusiness interests.

Mindanao is also the center of this terror campaign—and it is very hard to believe that there is no overlap between the Davao anti-drug death squads and the right-wing paramilitaries in the service of big business.

  1. Shut up twat, President Duterte is saving the Philippines from drug gangs and MILF terrorists. Get off your ivory tower fagget Bill Weinberg

  2. I support Portugal to lead the next United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs 2019. Portugal not only complied with “The Political Declaration and Plan Of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem”, but they’ve far exceeded the U.N agreement to resolve the drug epidemic, in which the U.S fails at miserably.…/ungass2016/V0984963-English.pdf
    Rodrigo Duterte’s preventing the Philippines from substantial economic growth by continuing a useless War on Drugs. America spends over $51 billion annually to fund the War on Drugs that does more harm than good. Portugal decriminalized drugs and has seen a plummet in drug abuse, a 66% drop in drug related court cases and a decline in HIV cases. Portugal has also reported a 20% increase in drug treatment. At 0.9% Portugal has the lowest drug use rate of any Western European country (6.1% UK, 4.6% Italy, and 3.2% Germany). 46.4% of America’s prison population are all drug offenses. That’s 85,419 inmates, according to statistics based on prior month’s data sheet – March 20, 2016. Drug abuse is a health issue, not a crime issue. The solution to drug abuse is proper medical drug treatments, not solitary confinement.
    Now compare the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and American President Nixon’s political approach on drug abuse to Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy. Do you honestly think Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, America’s DEA law enforcement and anybody who support’s the War on Drugs knows anything about what they’re talking about when it comes to helping drug addicts? By the way, Rodrigo Duterte demonstrates no understanding in economics, and neither does Congressman Manny Pacquiao.
    The prohibition against hemp cannabis is completely inappropriate and unethically immoral. I’m agitated of the fact just knowing that these government officials indoctrinate citizens to accept the law as a fundamental fact, instead of granting them the encouragement to ask fundamental questions. According to Law Enforcements standard, as a member of society, you obey or face the consequences without question. The job and responsibility of active duty law enforcement is to guard liberty and protect life, yet through these inappropriate laws, they violate liberty and destroy lives. The law has been perverted in the hands of the governing elites. It is employed to do the very thing that the law is designed to prevent. The enforcer turns out to be the main violator of its own standards.
    “When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.” — Bastiat, “The Law”

  3. It is long past time for the US to go back into the Philippines and take over a faild government that is killing indiscriminately, it’s people. We have had to do this in the past, well it needs to happen again.

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