PHILIPPINES: Protection for witnesses of vigilante killings in Davao City urgently needed

The AHRC writes with deep concern that 25 persons, including three children and a lady have been murdered in separate incidents from February to June of this year in Davao City.

The manner in which the victims were murdered appears to have connections with the unabated vigilante killings in the area. In a report by the Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions in February 2007, Philip Alston, described the murders as similar in nature to those perpetrated by a “death squad “.  Though he has made recommendations for the authorities to address this, the unabated murders are a stark reality that none of his recommendations have so far been implemented.

The murders have continued and none of the cases have resulted in a conviction in court. The perpetrators have remained unidentified; they have not been arrested or prosecuted and the families of the dead continue to have been deprived of redress. While we acknowledge the concerns of the police over the lack of witnesses and the latter’s refusal to cooperate in the prosecution of these cases, it is disappointing that instead of adequately addressing this matter, it has simply become their excuse.

It is disappointing that the city’s police director, Sr. Supt. Ramon Apolinario, has told the public that: “As long as we do not have the testimonies of the witnesses, we can never file the formal charges”. As you are aware, not only it is the Constitutional obligation of the police authorities to protect its citizens, it is also their utmost responsibility to ensure that investigations into cases they are handling also result in effective prosecutions.

Thus, the police should refrain from justifying their failures by using the excuse of the lack of, or refusal of the witness to cooperate, but rather they should rather exhaust all means to ensure witnesses come forward. It is extremely disappointing though that the police investigators are not pursuing this path. We are not aware of any situations so far of witnesses being assisted or in any way assured of their safety by the police in such a manner that might urge them to give evidence.

The police must also work towards ensuring that the potential witnesses are also recommended to be covered by the Witness Protection Programme of the Department of Justice (DOJ). To do so, for instance, the police must make interim arrangement for protection while the application for protection is being processed. We are aware that in order for any witnesses to apply and to qualify for the programme, the case to which he or she is testifying should be filed in court first. Providing interim protection would encourage witnesses to come forward even before a case is filed in court.

Even though the programme is already in existence, the circumstances reveal that the programme falls short to what is required and it is not effectively functioning to address matters involving vigilante killings. The possibility for witnesses to come forward and to cooperate is negligible. The lack of protection has already resulted in witnesses being unwilling to cooperate or get involved because they fear for their lives and that of their family as well. Although the police are aware of this, they have been unable to address this matter effectively.

Thus, the concerned authorities must ensure that necessary arrangement for protection is made available to encourage witnesses to testify. Also, the families of the slain persons should be afforded with adequate protection for them to be able to file a complaint in court without fear of reprisal.

Finally, the AHRC urge you to also take adequate action to ensure that the recommendations of the UN’s Special Rapporteur are implemented without delay. Unless the authorities take immediate action and are conscious of this urgent need, we are deeply concerned about the continuing occurrence of this type of killings.

Yours sincerely,


MOON Jeong Ho
Programme Officer
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong


1. Mr. Rodrigo R. Duterte, City Mayor, Office of the City Mayor, San Pedro Street, Davao City, PHILIPPINES
2. Sr. Supt. Ramon Apolinario, City Director, Davao City Police Office (DCPO), Davao City, PHILIPPINES
3. Mr. Alberto Sipaco Jr., Regional Director, Commission on Human Rights, Davao City, PHILIPPINES
4. Deputy Director General Avelino Razon, Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP), Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
5. Mr. Raul Gonzalez, Secretary, Department of Justice (DoJ), Manila, PHILIPPINES
6. Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, OHCHR-UNOG, Geneva, SWITZERLAND

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-020-2008
Countries : Philippines,