Killing for whom? Extrajudicial killing cases in the Philippines

Jung, Bub Mo

Since Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016, extrajudicial killings have taken more than 5000 lives. The targets and pattern of extrajudicial killings during his presidency may have been different from those during the Marco dictatorship. Yet it is also important to note that during the relatively stable period of Philippine democracy in 2001-2010, we witnessed a number of extrajudicial killings in everyday life in the Philippines.

A number of journalists, elected government officials, and leaders of peasant groups were shot dead on the streets by unidentified motorcyclists even in broad daylight. An exact count of these extrajudicial killings is not possible because armed conflicts related with communist and Islamic liberation movements are still ongoing. Though estimates on the number of incidents may vary, a rather conservative count suggests during the period 2001-2010, there were 305 incidents of extrajudicial killings with 390 victims, 1 while Karapatan, a human rights watch group, suggest the figure is over 1,000 for the same period. Only 161 of these incidents were filed with prosecutors. To many people’s dismay, very few perpetrators were brought to justice.

Extrajudicial killings in the Philippines

Extrajudicial killings, according to the Supreme Court Administrative Order, are defined by law as killings due to the political affiliation of the victims, the method of attack, and the involvement or acquiescence of stage agents in the commission of the killing.

The public and civil society in the Philippines might interpret the situation as a breakdown of state control over military groups or a culture of impunity. And although there is widespread concern in some circles with the mounting extrajudicial killings, the Armed Force of the Philippines seems unconcerned.

Since those targeted are varied and exact numbers are vague, this means that getting to the bottom of the assassinations is challenging. In addition, it is even more difficult to find out why certain non-militant and peasant leaders, as well as community development-oriented NGO workers or environmentalists, were brutally murdered. So far, few questions have been asked about the nature of their ‘threat’ to the local communities and the national political economy.

Based on the executions of two local leaders, we will examine the circumstances of their killings and their involvement with international development projects. International development is often a murky area in the Philippines. These projects — often cash-rich — are frequently tainted with corrupt connections and dodgy dealings between politicians and the local elites. This is exacerbated when economic oriented development agencies often pressure a recipient country to fast-track the proper implementation processes.


The case of Jose Doton

Mr. Jose Doton, the then Secretary-General of the Bayan Muna – Pangasinan Chapter and the president of Tignayan dagti Mannalon A Mangwayawaya Ti Agno (TIMMAWA), was shot dead on May 16, 2006. He was 62 years old. On that day, at around 10:30 to 10: 45 A.M., according to an eyewitness, a motorcycle was speeding behind Doton and his brother’s motorcycle, and there were three gun shots. Right after that, the red motorcycle (Yamaha XRM) with no numberplate overtook the motorcycle of the Doton brothers, and there were two more shots. When Jose and his brother had fallen on the road, one of the men, around 20 to 25 years-old, alighted from the motorcycle, shot Jose’s head and ran away. 2

Until the day of his killing, he was leading the struggle against the San Roque Dam, raising the issue of the mega dam’s adverse effects on people’s livelihoods and resources. The construction of the San Roque Dam would displace 660 families in his town. Furthermore, in Itogon in Benguet Province, around 20,000 indigenous peoples were adversely affected by the operation. During the press conference on June 15, 2006, Hozue Hatae, from Friends of the Earth-Japan, which was involved in monitoring the Japanese-funded project, stated that “in projects funded by the Japanese government and financial institutions, our organization has continuously paid attention on HRVs (human right violations) at the local level.” It is said that the people who are against the projects are often labeled as leftists and communist terrorists by the authorities. TIMMAWA had been identified by the authorities as a front for communist terrorists in the area.

The San Roque Multi-purpose Project (SRMP) is built on the lower Agno River of Pangasinan Province in northern Luzon to generate power for diverse economic activities as well as to improve water quality by reducing downstream siltation and flooding (Perez, 2004; SRPC, 2006, cited in Kim 2010 3: 629). The project can be traced back to several controversial dam projects in the Cordillera area, some that are yet to start operation. At the same time, there has been a long struggle against projects from indigenous groups.

At the end of the year, on December 8, 2006, a number of Japanese NGOs visited the Philippine embassy in Tokyo. According to their press release, they showed great concerns for the extra judicial killings and the Philippine government’s declaration of an “all-out war” against communists and the labeling of those critical of the government as “Enemy of the state”. Among their petitions, they asked the government to prohibit orders from officials or public authorities authorizing, inciting, or tacitly encouraging other persons to carry out unlawful killing, and to disband any “death squads”, private armies, vigilantes, criminal gangs and paramilitary forces operating outside the chain of command but with official support or acquiescence. 4

Around that time, Japanese Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs expressed strong concern about the political killing when they visited the Philippines on December 8 and 9, 2006. A few weeks after his visiting to the Philippines, on December 22, Task Force Usig from the Philippine National Police conducted an investigation into the killing of peasant leader Jose Doton. President Arroyo ordered the investigation as she was allegedly being pressured by the Japanese government and various non-government organizations. A civil society member mentioned that the release of billions of pesos for an irrigation project was to be withheld due to the unabated political killings. 5

Unlike most extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, it was fortunate Jose Doton’s case got national and international attention, and the case was investigated by the authorities. There was another case of killing which also triggered the international attention in recent years.

The case of Romeo Capalla

At around 6:30 p.m. on March 15, 2014, Romeo Capalla, aged 65, was gunned down near the public market of Oton town in Iloilo city by unidentified gunmen on four motorcycles. He was helping his 90-year old mother-in-law board his car when he was shot. Capalla was the founding member of the Panay chapter of Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), being a political detainee during the Martial Law in 1970s. That was the time when he was involved in the underground movement against the dictatorship.

He started working for Panay Fair Trade Center (PFTC) in 1994 as a worker, and throughout the years he climbed the ranks to became its manager. 6 The PFTC produces and sells natural and organic products for local and international markets. It buys organic muscovado sugar and bananas at premium prices from farmers and exports these to fair trade organizations in Europe and Asia.

Five months after the killing, international and local Fair Trade organizations conducted a fact-finding mission to look into the status of the investigation. Netherlands based-WTFO which consists of more than 200 fair trade groups worldwide condemned this killing. Seoul based-iCCOP Korea also voiced its supports to “arrest criminals who have committed atrocious acts.” 7

The suspect in the killing, Julie Cabino was a member of the RPA-ABB, which served as a para-military group organized by the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency campaign. Commenting on this killing, groups on the left suggested that “death squads” were operated by the military and that Capalla has been repeatedly tagged as a top leader of the New People’s Army. According to the news, even police personnel said they were helpless with regards to the RPA-ABB because when they arrest them for offenses, the Malacanang (Office of the President) interfered and ordered the release of offenders. 8

On May 23, according to a report from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Philippine National Police, stated that Capalla was killed by the breakaway Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB). It detailed how the killing was allegedly in “retaliation” to the gunning down of RPA-ABB leader Demetrio Capilastique, who was killed by the NPA (New People’s Army).

It is said that the RPA-ABB broke away from the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA in the 1990s over ideological differences, and the group entered into an interim peace agreement and a cessation of hostilities with the government on Dec 26, 2000. Capalla and Fernando Baldomero, town councillors of Oton, were accused of arson in August 2005. Both Capalla and Baldomero were released after the charges against them were dismissed. 9

According to the left group, NDF (National Democratic Front) Panay spokesperson Concha Araneta, the Philippine Army’s Third Infantry Division and the Military Intelligence Battalion was behind the attacks, and a Third ID Commander Major, General Aurelio Balada was a key person in charge. 10 It is said that such units are maintained for such “dirty jobs” against people’s organization and personalities.

Why the killings?

The two cases above show several common elements in political killings in the Philippines. At first, community leaders were eliminated by the para-military group which is allegedly backed up by the government authorities. Secondly, the resistance or community based movement were seen as hindrances or obstacles by some authorities. Thirdly, internationally related resistance or people’s movements aroused concerns with the cases and applied pressure to Philippine government.

However, the main question should be why these persons became targets and to whom these persons were considered a threat? In addition, how the para-military groups have accumulated so much power to commit these killings?

In case of the San Roque dam, the national government and authorities and related business sector would be main beneficiaries of the development project, and the concerns of ordinary people tend to be neglected. The marginalized sector’s demand for its rights is often not recognized, and instead they are labeled as ‘anti-development’ group or leftist. At the case of PFTC leaders, the change in the local economy which had depended on traditional and feudal labor relation for plantation production might threaten the local elite. Again, the workers-oriented production was labeled as a “leftist” movement. Thus, the vested groups have often tried to equate peoples’ movements with armed struggles. In the international arena, government anti-terror measures are supported by foreign countries like U.S. and Australia in the name of keeping peace. The OPLAN policy of the Philippine government has been criticized by civil societies, since it helps local elites enlarge their power into security measures and greaten their negotiation power with central government.

Jung, Bub Mo
Seoul National University Asia Center


  1. Parreno, Al A. 2011, Report on the Philippine Extrajudicial Killings (2001-August 2010), Manila: Asia Foundation.The inconsistencies in numbers might be caused by how extrajudicial killings are defined or whether ‘disappeared people’ are included in statistics.
  2. From the blog site of PIPLinks(Indigenous Peoples Links), the execution summary was prepared by the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (Accessed on 12 March 2016).
  3. Kim, Soyeun 2010 “Greening the Dam: The case of the San Roque Multi-purpose Project in the Philippines” Geoforum Vol. 41(4) pp. 627-637.
  4. Amnesty International Dec 8 Japan 2006 Joint Press Release by Japanese NGOs concerning increased political killings in the Philippines. (Accessed on 12 March 2016).
  5. Bulatlat Dec. 24-30 (Vol. VI. No. 46) (Accessed on 12 March 2016).
  6. JJustice for Romeo Capalla! Stop the Killings and End Impunity (accessed on 14 March 2016)
  7. Inquirer, 21 March 2014 (Accessed on 14 March 2016).
  8. Human rights group decries case dismissal against suspect of killing a Fair Trade advocate 5 September 2014 (Accessed on 14 March 2016)
  9. (Accessed on 15 March 2016)
  10. Davao Today Mar 24, 2014 on 12 March 2016).