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Cablegate: Latest Vigilante Killings in Cebu - No End in Sight

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958:N/A

B. 04 MANILA 5220
C. 04 MANILA 4331

1. (U) Summary: Summary executions of suspected criminals
by "death squads" in Cebu are continuing at an alarming
rate. According to media reports, suspected vigilantes have
killed at least 41 people since December 2004. Civil
society groups have condemned the extrajudicial killings,
but much of the public appears willing to tolerate them as
an expedient means of combating crime. So far, police have
not arrested any perpetrators in any of the attacks. End

Vigilantes Continue Their Bloody Campaign

2. (U) The death count of suspected criminals continues to
rise in Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines,
where at least 41 people have been killed since December
2004, according to media reports. (Note: Police
investigators claim that only about thirty of these are
cases of vigilante killings. End note) On April 10, a lone
gunman onboard a motorcycle fatally shot Erwin Arquillano,
who had just been released from jail for robbery. On April
1, an unidentified man shot and killed Misael Lopez, whom
local residents had reported to be a thief in his village.
On the same day, a masked gunman murdered Noel Canoy, who
had been detained twice in the Bagong Buhay (New Life)
Rehabilitation Center (BBRC) for substance abuse, pick
pocketing, armed robbery, and burglary. Another former
inmate of BBRC, Edgar Caballero, died from gunshot wounds
after an unidentified man shot him on March 29. Caballero
had also been detained in BBRC several times between 2002
and 2004 for illegal possession of a firearm.

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--------------------------------------------- ------
Church, Lawyers, and Civic Groups Condemn Killings
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (U) The Catholic Church in Cebu, led by Archbishop
Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, and the Cebu Chapter of the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) criticized Cebu City
Mayor Thomas Osmena and condemned the extrajudicial killings
in the city. Cardinal Vidal has forcefully denounced the
summary executions in his homilies and through the
archdiocese's newsletter, urging Cebuanos to reject the
"culture of death." The IBP passed a resolution in January
2005 urging the Cebu City Police Office to arrest the
perpetrators of these summary executions and to help solve
criminality in the community in accordance with the rule of
law. Lawyers and civil society groups formed a multi-
sectoral alliance against the rise in vigilante killings in
Cebu on January 31, 2005. The alliance announced plans to
create a speaker's bureau publicly to explain its position
against the killings.

Suspected Police Involvement

4. (U) The series of summary executions began on December
23, 2004, two days after Mayor Osmena announced the creation
of the "Hunter Team," a special squad of police tasked to go
after criminal elements in the city. Osmena also offered a
reward of 20,000 pesos (370 USD) to the police force for
every criminal "permanently disabled and neutralized." The
mayor has denied any involvement by him or the Hunter Team
in any of the summary executions, while noting that, as a
result of the vigilante killings, crime in Cebu has gone

5. (U) The Secretary of Interior and Local Government,
Angelo Reyes, has ordered the Cebu City Police immediately
to arrest any individuals belonging to vigilante groups
thought to be involved in the killings of both convicted and
suspected criminals. Senators Manuel Villar and Richard
Gordon also warned the Cebu police force to stop summary
executions of suspected criminals.

Public Support for Extrajudicial Methods

6. (U) Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia has publicly
supported Osmena's Hunter Team, saying that a "chilling
message" must be sent to culprits who thwart government
efforts to keep peace and order. The Cebu Chamber of
Commerce and Industry (CCCI) also expressed its strong
support to the Hunter Team, stating that the promotion of
peace and security is a vital component in the city's
economic development initiatives. Even the Commission on
Human Rights (CHR) Regional Director (Region 7) Alejandro
Alonso lauded the creation of the Hunter Team and the
mayor's reward program to police officers who apprehend
notorious criminals, albeit emphasizing the need for
safeguards to prevent abuse of official authority.

7. (U) In a meeting on April 6 with new Director General of
the Philippine National Police General Arturo C. Lomibao,
Pol/C expressed serious concern about extrajudicial
killings, noted that the USG reported at length on this
subject in our annual report to Congress on human rights,
and warned of possible consequences for US assistance
programs to security forces. General Lomibao promised that
the police would investigate such cases.
8. (SBU) Comment: Many, perhaps even a majority of Cebu
residents appear to support the Mayor's tough stance against
crime, especially appreciative of the drop in crime rates.
As long as local officials believe that the public will
tolerate such extreme measures, they are likely to continue
at least tacitly to sanction such killings, despite our
repeated expressions of concern.


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