May 4, 2016

Archbishop Ledesma scored Duterte, Davao City officials for “mass murder”

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—The highest official of the Catholic Church in this part of the Philippines has scored the mayor and presidential front-runner, and other local government officials of Davao City for the 1,424 unsolved extra-judicial killings in that Southern Mindanao city.

Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J., D.D., said in a pastoral letter “A Matter of Conscience” he issued late Tuesday afternoon, said that summary killings can never be justified whoever the victims are. “These killings are illegal, immoral and sinful.”

Redemptorist priest Fr. Amado Picardal, best known as “the running priest”, said in his blog, which Ledesma cited in his pastoral letter, that the number of victims of extra-judicial killings in Davao City “can be considered as mass murder.”

“As Christians, we believe in the dignity of every person made in God’s image and from which flow human rights – the most basic of which is the right to life. The Church proclaims the Gospel of life and opposes the culture of death” which is manifested in “abortion, war, capital punishment, and extra-judicial killings.”

While not mentioning Davao City mayor and presidential front-runner Rodrigo Duterte by name, The 73-year-old leader of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro scored “the mayor” and other “local government officials” of Davao City for their “inaction” over the unsolved 1,424 extra-judicial killings in the city from 1998-2015.

Ledesma said that the perpetrators of these killings are members of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) who remain at large.

“The total number of persons killed by the DDS from 1998-2015 is 1,424. Let me repeat in words—ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY-FOUR victims. This can be considered as MASS MURDER perpetrated by the same group, inspired and supported by the same persons. The data does not include those killed in other cit8ies where the DDS have expanded franchise style,” Picardal wrote in an April 19, 2016 blog entry entitled “The Victims of the Davao Death Squad: Consolidated Report 1998-2015”.

“A city with such a high rate of unsolved killings cannot be called a city of peace and order,” Ledesma stressed.

Duterte first became mayor of Davao City in 1988 until 1998, the year he won a seat in the House of Representatives representing the city’s first congressional district. After one term in Congress, he ran and won the mayor’s seat again in 2001 and held it until 2007 after three terms. In 2010 he slid to the vice mayoral position in favor of his daughter Sara, who won City Hall. But in 2013, he again ran and won City Hall. Last November, Duterte formally joined the presidential derby for May 9, 2016.

Duterte repeatedly admitted to killing criminals. He also promised to kill if he becomes president to eradicate crime.

According to Picardal, he received “a consolidated report of the killings perpetrated by the Davao Death Squad (DDS)” from a source he did not mention “for obvious reasons.” However, Fr. Picx said that the source “have been monitoring these killing” since it began and that he “know[s] them very well and have been collaborating with them as we denounced these killings and worked with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW).”

Fr. Picx said that he decided to publish the report in his blog because “to hide this would be a disservice to the nation since I believe that the body count could multiply many times over throughout the whole country in the next six years.

“I know that when I do this, I am risking my life. But the truth must come out before it is too late,” he stressed.

Of the victims, 1,367 were males and 57 were females. The victims include 132 children (17 years old and below)—126 boys and 6 girls. “The youngest was a 12 years old boy and a 15 years old girl. There was a 9-year-old boy who was killed by a stray bullet—he was not an intended target,” Picardal said.

Picardal said that “almost 50 percent of the victims were young people”—children and young adults aged 18-25, “poor”, and “unarmed.”

“None of the perpetrators…have been apprehended. The prime responsibility for the inaction over these unsolved crimes must rest squarely on the mayor and local government officials,” Ledesma said.

With just four days before election day, Ledesma and other Church leaders are urging voters to “vote for candidates of conscience with a constant pro-life ethic and reject candidates who promote the culture of death.”

“The choice you make will determine whether we live in the light and progress as a nation or bring back the darkness that we have experienced and rejected in the past – an autocratic regime characterized by violence, human rights violations and corruption, and a reign of terror and greed,” he said. (Bong D. Fabe)

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