Davao Death Squad (Philippines)

Country: Philippines
Details of Formation: Most evidence points out that the Davao Death Squad was formed in the mid-1990s. It is unclear who exactly is responsible for its formation but Mayor Duterte is allegedly involved. One source claims that a business group founded the death squad; another says that there are long-running suspicions that it was the government.
Details of Termination: The group was active primarily in the mid-1990s, followed by inactivity and then reactivation in 2000. According to a report in 2012, the death squad is still active but commits fewer attacks.
Purpose: The group’s purpose is to fight crime in Davao City. They were successful in providing security as crime figures significantly reduced around the time the DDS became active (Wikipedia).
Organisation: The DDS is run by handlers, which are called amo (boss) and are typically (ex-) policemen or local officials. Each amo handles around 10-12 members which are sometimes divided into cells of 2-5. The amo report to the police precinct commander who distributes money for operations; the amo then distribute the resources down to their cells. The police precinct commander, in turn, reports to an official in the city government—“the big boss”. There is allegedly a relationship between the DDS and the Davao mayor Duterte, but this relationship is unclear and has been denied by Duterte; investigations on the matter were inconclusive. Successive national governments have turned a blind eye on the issue (Human Rights Watch). Retired Policeman Arthur Lascanas is the self-proclaimed leader of the DDS (Wikipedia).
Weapons and Training: Members received weapons such as handguns and knives. These guns were allegedly purchased by the city government for the police and then distributed to DDS members. Around 2009, the DDS started using knives more extensively because they are cheaper and draw less attention. While older recruits with considerable experience do not receive training, young recruits receive an initiation ritual and training upon joining the DDS. Training is provided by older recruits (Human Rights Watch). According to Wikipedia, DDS members received training by serving or ex-police officers.
Size: Upon foundation, the DDS had around 10 members, but membership increased to around 500 by 2009 (Wikipedia). Human Rights Watch speaks of more than 500 members.
Reason for Membership: There are two main groups of members: Older members, mainly former members of “sparrow units” of the NPA who surrendered to the government, and former military and police. And younger members who often have no job and no place to live often with a criminal record themselves. Some members had themselves been “on the list” and thus had the choice of being a potential victim of the DDS or joining their ranks. Others are motivated by the financial incentives: Members committing the murders are paid for every assassination, with the amount depending on the person targeted; this payment can be as high as ten times of a normal job. Younger recruits who ran away from home are provided with housing and food. Many members were reported to believe that killing their victims was the only way to execute criminals in light of the inefficient legal system. Many DDS members were killed themselves by the DDS when they failed to carry out executions or knew too much. There were reportedly a lot of stories of hitmen executed. (Human Rights Watch).
Treatment of Civilians: The DDS is responsible for extrajudicial killings of civilians suspected of petty crimes, drug dealing, child raping and murdering. They killed over 300 people between 1998 and 2005; their rate of killing accelerated subsequently and they killed over 700 individuals between 2005-2008. Killing was discriminate and based on a list of targets which was drafted by police or village officials. The executions were encouraged in the rhetoric of local officials and were de-facto tolerated, which created an atmosphere of impunity. It was suggested that extrajudicial killings became unwritten state policy in dealing with crime (Wikipedia). There is one account of a victim being tortured before killed (Human Rights Watch).
Other Information: Before media began to call the group Davao Death Squad, it was called Suluguon sa Katawhan (“Servants of the People”) (Human Rights Watch). The DDS enjoys a certain degree of public approval among citizens, which is fueled by public discontent at the ineffective judicial system (Wikipedia and Human Rights Watch).
References: Human Rights Watch. 2009. “’You Can Die Any Time’. Death Squad Killings in Mindanao.“ ISBN: 1-56432-448-6

Wikipedia. “Davao Death Squad”.https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Davao_Death_Squad&oldid=966567218

Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD