Philippine death squad 'killed 298'
A "death squad" that targeted criminal suspects in a Philippine city was allegedly organised by the former mayor and was responsible for nearly 300 killings over seven years, according to a US-based human rights group.
Human Rights Watch said it had documented at least a dozen of the 298 killings from January 2007, based largely on accounts of former hitmen, witnesses, relatives of victims and police officers in Tagum City.
Former mayor Rey Uy has denied the allegations and says they were based on statements coerced and paid for by drug dealers and illegal gamblers.
Human Rights Watch says president Benigno Aquino III has largely ignored the killings.
Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said Mr Aquino had "affirmed the government's commitment to render justice to victims of extra-judicial killings dating back to those that were perpetrated in previous administrations".
Mr Coloma said cases that were dismissed by prosecutors were ordered refiled by Mr Aquino and that "interagency work to complete case build-up that will meet the standards of judicial proof will be pursued vigorously".
Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director, said there was "compelling evidence" against Mr Uy, who reportedly called the targets - suspected drug dealers, petty criminals, street children and others - "weeds" that had to be uprooted in a "perverse form of crime control". Death squad members who quit were also targets, Mr Kine said.
"The Tagum death squad's activities imposed a fear-enforced silence in Tagum City that allowed the killers and their bosses to literally get away with murder," Mr Kine said in a statement released by Human Rights Watch after it released its 71-page report.
The statement said Mr Uy, his close aides and police officers "hired, equipped and paid for an operation that at its height consisted of 14 hitmen and accomplices" after his first term as mayor in 1998. His son lost the election to succeed him after he stepped down in 2013.
Mr Aquino has "failed to condemn local anti-crime campaigns that promote or encourage the unauthorised use of force to rid city streets of 'undesirables'," the human rights group said.
The group said that according to a former death squad member, hitmen were paid 5,000 pesos (£68) for each killing. Mr Uy personally paid the hitmen on at least two occasions, Human Rights Watch said.
Mr Uy laughed off the claim: "Everybody knows the house of the mayor, and they come soliciting help for this and that problem. It is easy to point to the mayor."
He suggested the killings were "vengeance" from the victims of the criminals and rivalry between crime gangs.
"Certain individuals here coerced the so-called witnesses, gave them money to make up stories," he said.
"They don't want me to return to power because if I come back, they will lose their businesses," he said, adding that he plans to run again in the next election.
Human Rights Watch said the death squad was also responsible for the killing of a journalist, a judge, two police officers, a tribal leader, local politicians and businessmen. Mr Uy was apparently unaware of these killings or was told by "handlers" of the gunmen that the victims were involved in drugs to justify the attacks, it said.