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Vol. IV,  No. 36                                October 10 - 16, 2004                       Quezon City, Philippines


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Task Force Davao:
A Behemoth Gone Wild

The Task Force Davao was originally created to deal with terrorism. But now, without explanation to the public and without the expressed approval of local leaders, it has transformed into a military behemoth, implementing a de facto martial law in Davao City.


DAVAO CITY - When Task Force Davao (TFD), a police and military unit, was created last year, it had one explicit function: to go after the perpetrators of the bombings in Davao city in March and April 2003 that killed 38 people and injured dozens others, and to prevent similar terrorist attacks from ever happening again.

The TFD, buoyed by the support of local officials led by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, wasted no time. It set up headquarters right in the heart of the city. It set checkpoints in strategic areas. It deployed personnel to patrol the streets and roam the malls – in full battle gear. In bars and favorite nightspots, members of the TFD became permanent fixtures.

But soon, a dark side emerged: the TFD was accused of violating human rights of citizens. Its troops conducted raids in Muslim areas in the city, ostensibly to flush out extremists. In several instances, the TFD was accused of painting red marks on doors of Muslim homes, reminiscent of what the Nazis did to Jews in Germany during World War II.

Cries of human rights violations, abductions, disappearances and murders reverberated in the city. But the TFD was hardly touched, protected by the mandate given by the popular Duterte. For all practical purposes, Davao City and its nearby environs became a garrison, a city under de facto martial.

The Mindanao Truth Commission, a multisectoral panel created to conduct a parallel investigations into the Davao City bombings, noted how the wave of bombings in the region has resulted in the mushrooming of detachments, military and police checkpoints and task forces/groups. It pointed out that the military, whose mandate is to deal with enemies of the state like the communists and separatists, has deployed soldiers to cities to combat terrorism.

Unwritten license

“This has given way to an unwritten license among law enforcers to discriminate (against) Muslims, deny them due process and respect their civil and political rights,” the commission said in a recent report. Overall, it added, “this has led to the public to accept as ‘normal’ the increasing presence of military and intelligence elements among civilian populations.”

Perhaps because it thought that Davaoeños have virtually endorsed its existence, the TFD, led by the virulently anti-Left Col. Eduardo del Rosario, ventured out into another area: political repression. Del Rosario’s strategy was simple: destroy the militant and human rights groups such as Bayan, Bayan Muna and Karapatan – groups that have consistently fought against human rights violations and the abuses of the military – by lumping them with the communist New People’s Army.

Soon, it accused Karapatan secretary-general for Southern Mindanao (and now Bayan Muna congressman) Joel Virador and Bayan mass leader Alvin Luque of being NPA guerrillas. Del Rosario used former guerrillas in his campaign against their leaders, even going to the extent of filing charges against Luque, whom del Rosario accused of giving money and cellphones to the guerrillas. Luque and his colleagues have consistently denied the charges.

Since then, the TFD practically stopped being about terrorism. In the meantime, the culprits of the Davao bombings are still at large, while the military itself has been accused of masterminding the attacks.

The TFD has shifted its focus to the militant groups and the NPA. In a radio program in RMN on Oct. 7, del Rosario explained that TFD had to deal with the NPA because a battalion which he used to lead, the 73rd Infantry Battalion, has been absorbed by the TFD. The 73rd IB is known for its campaign against the NPA in the Southern Mindanao region, as well as the alleged human-rights violations its troops have committed against peasants and Lumads.


And because the TFD absorbed the 73rd IB, its anti-insurgency mandate was, necessarily, absorbed by the task force as well, del Rosario explained.

Davao City leaders were aghast at the TFD’s transformation. Councilor Angela Librado, a local leader of Bayan Muna, assailed the TFD and del Rosario for their campaign against Luque and the other leaders of local militant groups. Del Rosario responded by saying Librado abused her authority by supporting Bayan and Bayan Muna, even castigating her for joining an anti-U.S. rally in Davao City on Oct. 7.

“Government officials should support the government’s policies,” del Rosario said, adding that if they don’t they might as well resign.

Librado countered by issuing a statement calling del Rosario the city’s “little mayor” for allegedly usurping the civilian functions of city officials.

“The cat is out of the bag. Col. Eduardo del Rosario has finally made known to the public the Task Force Davao’s role in counter-insurgency and police work, on top of its anti-terror functions,” Librado said. “This explains a lot how (del Rosario) has said quite a mouthful against militant groups and the underground NPA.”

Librado said del Rosario’s admission of the TFD’s counter-insurgency role puts in perspective why the TFD has always been involved in demolishing urban poor homes, coordinating security arrangements for visiting dignitaries and tourists, even arresting traffic violators.

Librado said the Davao public and the City Council had not been apprised that Mayor Duterte had become so ineffective in running the city that the TFD needed to be called in.

“I am sorry to say this but I find the TFD’s new mandate, as per del Rosario’s definition, an insult to the mayor, to the local government and to the people of Davao. It is an insult because local government functions have been taken over by militarization through an ubiquitous superstructure called the Task Force Davao,” Librado said.

Librado pointed out that the TFD was supposed to be temporary but now it has grown so big that its head has questioned a citizen’s rights to free speech, free assembly, free expression and the freedom to join organizations.

“With the TFD’s machinations and actuations, the Arroyo administration’s war on terror — from which the TFD originally sprung -- has now been exposed as unmistakably a war against the people,” Librado said. Bulatlat

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