Davao Death Squads – do they deliver results or just more problems?

The alleged assault against court sheriff Abe Andres by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte is now turning into a media circus. But one good thing that came out of this recent dragging of the premier city of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao into the limelight is the renewed interest in the spotty human rights record over there.

The city is specifically known for the infamous “Davao Death Squads” or DDS. The fact that the centre of the brouhaha, Sara Duterte, is the daughter of Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (figure that arrangement out!) makes it interesting considering that the Vice Mayor once joked about the “D” in DDS standing for “Duterte” in a TIME Asia article that ran with the title “The Punisher.” Whether Duterte’s links with the DDS are true or not, he seems to find no reason to distance himself from the brand of West-of-the-Pecos style of justice that vigilante groups like it stand for…

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Duterte is unapologetic about his willingness to venture beyond what legal niceties might permit. Criminals and rebels, he says menacingly from his perch at the bar, “do not have a monopoly on evil.” A long, hard stare leaves little doubt that this is not idle talk. One day his methods might be unnecessary, he says. But for now, he insists on what most people from this town have also come to believe: “The only reason there is peace and order in Davao is because of me.”

Indeed, in a country like the Philippines where just about everything is a gray area, including The Law, there seems to be very little sound bases for making a summary judgment of governance style and approach to taming a part of the Philippines that is so far away from Imperial Manila. Despite all this, the elder Duterte seems to have set himself apart from most other Philippine oligarchs and warlords…

Duterte suffers from none of the charges that dog most Philippine politicians: that he is beholden to vested interests, obsessed with retaining power, or bent on accumulating its spoils. He is accepted and welcomed because he has delivered Davao from the bloody days of the 1970s and 1980s when the city was known as the murder capital of the Philippines.

One can argue that Duterte had delivered results under his watch and that it’s all good — whatever works, so to speak. However, there is something disturbing about an approach that puts up “assassination” as a virtual official course of action when dealing with criminal elements. Duterte even reportedly refers to the subjects of his anti-crime drives as “legitimate target[s] of assassination.”

In a speech before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in February of 2009, Mayor Duterte explained his perspective: “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.”

The trouble with law-and-order systems where officers are able to act as judge and executioner is that under such systems, there is none of the control mechanisms that allow any benefit of the doubt to be applied when delivering “justice” to the the subjects of said system. This means that you can be cheering “swift justice” one moment then suddenly find yourself looking down the barrel of a gun wielded by the very executioner you once cheered — all depending on what could amount to nothing more than the roll of a dice. A “black box” justice system does not lend itself to scrutiny. And even when one can peer into such a box, the lack of any rules that govern “action” makes any effort to rationalise such systems utterly pointless.

Indeed, a DDS “execution” can reportedly be bought for as little as Php5,000 (just a little more than USD100). So, in principle, the street value of the life of the average Davao resident, is not much more than a Diesel-branded t-shirt. The way that such tolerance for lack of due process can go was best described by the report You Can Die Anytime released by New York-based Human Rights Watch. ABS-CBN News reported on that report how…

[…] while petty criminals are still the main targets, news of mistaken identities has been rising and death squad members themselves have been targeted.

It may as well serve as a warning to the sympathizers and financial backers of death squads because it shows they can be targets themselves.

Because of the sympathizers’ silence, there is a perception that residents and businessmen in Davao City are supportive of the so-called mission of Davao Death Squad to eliminate criminality in the city.

So what’s the verdict? Just an ironic question there. Many Davao residents apparently like the Duterte approach to keeping the peace. Perhaps this is not surprising in a society that consists of people who prefer to place their fates in supernatural beings, heroes, and amulets and statuettes rather than on sensible products engineered by their more earthly brains — like rules, laws, and systems.

28 Replies to “Davao Death Squads – do they deliver results or just more problems?”

  1. Right you are. Drug addicts and drug pushers are summarily executed in Davao City, but lo and behold, the biggest shabu laboratory in Mindanao was found in Davao City! What gives? How come?

    1. Where in Davao bubi78 at least we know?
      whose the owner?
      be specific so that we know, we dont need tsismis here.

  2. ah, straight out of the pages of the Punisher…

    “What happens when he who hunts down criminals becomes the biggest criminal left?”

      1. I lived in Davao. Best place for a normal life in the Philippines. I think DDS is over-hyped, and of course people with a criminal mentality don’t like the idea. Believe me, DDS won’t last forever.

        Dabaowenyos are the most courteous, most conscientious I have met in the Philippines as a whole, as well as the most open-minded and willing to try new ways of doing things. I’m not crediting DDS or being Dabaowenyo necessarily (because there are Cebuanos, Ilonggos, Tagalogs, Ilocanos, and foreigners among others who count themselves as Dabaowenyo). I also felt that they were the most willing to take polite suggestions seriously, and there seems to be a higher value shown for the common people there (clean air, parks, crosswalks with lights, etc.).

        The only thing that I found really difficult in Davao City was getting around. The jeepneys are old and the routes are a little congested. They are doing a lot of construction nowadays, and I believe they would be the first to consider throwing out the jeepney system and replacing it with city buses. So, I’m not even complaining too hard about that.

        1. actually davao city is a melting pot of all tribes of this archipelago. like you have said, tagalogs, ilocano, visaya, etc.

          the city is so disciplined that it created a culture the davaowenyo way. a civilized society down south. if per chance the country will fail (i hope not), i’ll be migrating to Davao City.

  3. The Mayor Duterte incident is just the tip of the iceberg; of those in power, in Davao, becoming the law. They are above the law. It hppened in Nazi Germany, during World War II. The Nazis removed all oppositions. The German people had no choices, but to: “Howl with the Wolves (Nazis). So, they were forced to war. Then, to the Jewish Holocaust: the Final Solution of the unopposed dictator, Adolf Hitler…this is a dangerous precedence in our country…Killing and murdering people, just to enforce the “rule of peace”…it happened in other countries. As George Santaya had stated: ” Those who foget the past…are condemned to repeat it.”…

    1. If the said Death Squad is truly being employed by the Dutertes:

      Once these “leaders” die, instead of being saved for their “inexhaustible and exemplary humane support and protection” towards the people of Davao- they will be castrated, mutilated and burnt in hell for their inadmissible, unimaginable worst deeds yet—taking into account the total number of druglords, rapists and thugs that they have killed in the past so far since they ruled the said “safest place to live.” What an irony…Tsk3x. . .

      1. @Joe Cardinal

        I don’t know why only a few of us realise that. But it’s their life and they want to live dangerously.

        1. have you tried walking on the streets after midnight without the fear that somebody is out there to hurt you? well that is exactly how we feel here in davao, you lot just hadn’t taken the time to observe Davao. you’re basing your comments on what he wrote. killings here isn’t rampant. why dont you here first before you say that

        2. you guys have not visited davao city. if the state will fail (i hope not), i will migrate in davao city. mayor duterte will do everything to protect the law abiding citizens.

          unless you’re a criminal. you’ll find yourself floating in bankerohan river.

          but don’t worry, he’ll give you 2 warnings to leave or change for the better if not, BANG!

  4. This is another plop of pudding that shows the Philippines is not a real, unified nation, but rather a haphazard collection of Egos, each of whom believes he knows the true path, whether it be the Mayor, or Ampatuan, Sr., or the guy who tosses his trash and figures someone else can deal with it.

    Morality is how you define it as an individual, not as the State defines it, through laws. Ask the Mayor or Muslim extremists or the commie pinko extortionist gangs or millions of unlicensed drivers.

  5. The Police Forces and Judiciary will just have to work overtime as a viable alternative.

    I may have been born and raised here in Metro Manila, but from what I see, DDS Killings shows the supremacy of hearsay over the laws of evidence and jurisprudence.


        1. @Aegis-Judex, you speak like an imperialist. We don’t don’t like imperialists meddling in our affairs here in Davao. You imperialists should just leave Davao as it is because we don’t need your prying into our affairs here, in short, BACK OFF

  7. it’s all a bunch of hype; instead of letting these so-called death squads do their thing, why not let the ordinary, tax paying citizens buy guns and let them blow away these criminal scumbags? I doubt the politicians would approve of this though, why? Dahil wala silang pagkakataon para magpapogi,

  8. My girlfriend 0f 8 years was from davao and she turned out to be the biggest cheat and liar, made Manila people look like saints.
    Told me my son was mine but she really just wanted money.They stop at nothing to obtain money at any cost

    1. mayor duterte is only for heavy criminals (kidnappers, drug lords, killers)
      what happened to you is low level crime or domestic affair. go to court and file the same. thanks.

  9. I have to say the DDS makes Davao very nice to live in. They should just cut their retarded war of drugs out now that the US is doing it, and it would be perfect.

  10. Please Mr. Duterte you should run for the president by next year and turn our country as the next Singapore and almost the entire 100 million Filipinos will become a member of the Davao Death Squads and we will scare those Chinese Armed Forces on West Philippine Sea.

  11. The stupid Wiki said Davao City is “currently listed as the 4th safest city in the world.” I searched everywhere and I couldn’t find its source (the reliable one. Or is this all they got? -> http://www.numbeo.com/crime/rankings_current.jsp). And if DDS for every criminal (suspected or labeled no matter their age or circumstances) is all the Davaweños idea of safety and a nice place to live in… Oh, man. Now, this is really depressing. We have here a group of people who don’t care how the system works as long as their god keeps them safe. And here they think they are in the best place when Davao couldn’t even make its way to the safest and must-see cities in the world. And no, don’t tell me, “Blame it to the rebels!”

    @mrericx, you still need a lot of convincing to do. If you can give us facts not just on crime rate or how criminals are dealt with but including health and personal safety, infrastructure, technological advancement, livelihood and income and all other important factors that make a city a safe place to live in during Duterte’s leadership then I would say it’s fair for you to promote Duterte (still depending of course on what the facts suggest).

    1. unless the country will federalize and the constitution be amended, davao city will have a hard time upgrading. add the corruption as well in the national govt. Davao City hit 1 billion peso mark but where did it go? of course it goes to congress then to the pockets of the pigs in the government.

      that’s why mayor duterte is pushing for federal parliament. i’m voting for him because of his strong support for constitutional reform.

      1. I agree with you about federalism. The national government are preventing the local government to upgrade in that every plans, budget and total city income are subjected to the central government’s decision and distribution and apart from their review process for the projects being slow, there’s a lot of hocus pocus going on in there.

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