Tagum Death Squad (Philippines)

Country: Philippines
Details of Formation: The Tagum Death Squad (TDS) was created by Rey Uy, the mayor of Tagum. It is not entirely clear when Uy created the death squad, but a former TDS member claimed that the TDS started as early as 1998. The first activity is from 2004, but the group was mainly active between 2007-2013 (Human Rights Watch 2014). Uy was mayor of Tagum from 1998-2001 and again from 2004-2013 (City government of Tagum). During that time we do not consider the group as being pro-government.
Details of Termination: In 2013, a new mayor was elected as Uy’s term ended and the TDS lost official protection and members left city hall’s CSU. Many TDS members left Tagum and relocated to Compostela Valley where Uy’s brother was governor. However, some remained and TDS-style killings continued, though less frequently, and concerns rose that elements of the death squad remain operational and are continuing to kill for financial gain, though the paymaster for these post-Uy killings is unknown (Human Rights Watch 2014). In 2015, Uy and other people involved in death squad killings were investigated but as of 2015, none has faced prosecution (Human Rights Watch 2016).
Purpose: The main purpose of the TDS was to reduce the presence of perceived criminals in Tagum city. It was used as effective anti-criminal mean when the judicial system did not prosecute the criminal (Human Rights Watch 2014).
Organisation: The Tagum Deaths Squad was linked to Tagum mayor Rey Uy who directed its operations with the help of two trusted aides and several officers with the Tagum City Police. Local police and government officials organized and operated the TDS on Uy’s orders. Uy provided payment and equipment for the operations, channeling it through the Civil Security Unit (CSU) as a cover. Most TDS members were employed under a cover of legitimacy as security aides to the Tagum City governments’ CSU. TDS members sometimes received killing orders from then-CSU chief Col Abraham Catre, a retired police official. TDS supervisors were Victor Cuaresma, Conrado Palen and Sabitsana. Uy, Cuaresma or Palen would contact Sabitsana with a killing order who would then get in touch with TDS members. Sometimes the supervisors ordered killings without Uy’s knowledge and control, in order to generate personal revenue. (Human Rights Watch 2014)
Weapons and Training: The TDS mainly used .45 caliber pistols, though they also had different calibers and types of handguns. As they were part of the CSU, they could carry firearms legally. Members of the TDS did not undergo any training except for the occasional target shooting. (Human Rights Watch 2014)
Size: At its peak, the Tagum Death Squad had 14 members (Human Rights Watch 2014).
Reason for Membership: The majority of TDS members were petty criminals that were recruited into the TDS after they themselves had run in with the law on minor offenses. Most were jobless youths. TDS members who refused to carry out orders or wanted to quit were likely to become TDS victims. There are several reports of TDS members who were targeted by fellow TDS. Many escaped heavily wounded, but a handful was killed over time. Additionally to their regular Civil Security Unit salary, they received payments for every killing their conducted. The money came from mayor Uy himself, and was either given to them directly by Uy or channeled through Cuaresmo or Palen. (Human Rights Watch 2014)
Treatment of Civilians: The TDS killed around 300 people from 2007 to 2013. Their main targets were perceived criminals: criteria for being a target were violating Uy’s perception of acceptable behavior (Human Rights Watch 2014). Many victims were street children who were often killed with extreme brutality (Human Rights Watch 2015). All cases remained unsolved and no perpetrator (except one who agreed to testify) has been arrested. Police officers were also involved in the killings and took part in attempts to cover-up the murders (Human Rights Watch 2014).
Other Information: The Davao Death Squad served as model for the TDS, and the TDS is therefore identical in purpose and structure. Their leaders Plaen and Cuaresma also deployed the TDS for contract killings outside their usual profile of petty criminals. The TDS enjoyed tacit support from the federal government (Human Rights Watch 2014). The target category “regular military force” refers to targeted police officers.
References: Human Rights Watch. 2014. “’One Shot to the Head’. Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines.” ISBN 978-1-62313-1319.

Human Rights Watch. 2015. “Dispatches: Philippines ‘Death Squad’ Under Fire.” https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/03/04/dispatches-philippines-death-squad-under-fire

Human Rights Watch. 2016. “Letter from HRW to President Rodrigo Duterte.” https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/09/letter-hrw-president-rodrigo-duterte

KAGIKAN: Tracing the Flow of Tagum’s Rich History. ISBN 978-971-95625-1-1. 2019-01-01