Killings Journalists
Philippine police and government officials were involved in the extrajudicial killings, Human Rights Watch said.Reuters

Nearly 300 people, including drug dealers, petty criminals and street children, were allegedly killed by a so-called "death squad" in a six-year reign of terror in Tagum City, Philippines, Human Rights Watch has warned.

In its new report, "'One Shot to the Head': Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines," HRW said local government officials and police officers were complicit in the killing of 298 people.

"Tagum City's former mayor [Rey "Chiong" Uy ] helped organise and finance a death squad linked to the murder of hundreds of residents," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. "Rey Uy called these citizens 'weeds'. He and other city officials and police officers underwrote targeted killings as a perverse form of crime control.

HRW interviewed more than three dozen people, including surviving victims and their families, witnesses to killings, police officers, and former death squad members.

"They said they wanted to clean up Tagum, to bring change to Tagum, so that bad elements would think twice in coming in because they would end up dead in Tagum," Romnick Minta, former member of the death squad, said.

The former killers described how those who refused to carry out orders, or sought to quit were themselves likely to become death squad victims.

The killings typically occurred outdoors, on the streets, and often in broad daylight. They hit men, wearing baseball caps and sunglasses and armed with .45 calibre handguns, would arrive and depart on government-issued motorcycles.

Former death squad members said that they would routinely inform local police via text message of an impending targeted killing, so the police would not interfere. After the killing, the police in turn would notify them if any witnesses had identified them.

The unit was paid 5,000 pesos (£65) for every killing, which the members would divide among themselves.

"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," Kine said.

"The Philippine government's failure to act decisively against death squad killings has certainly contributed to the horrific death toll.

"President Aquino needs to send a loud and urgent message that deploying death squads as a 'crime control' measure is unlawful and needs to stop."