DAVAO CITY — Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he will not allow a witch hunt against political activists to start in the city even as he ordered a prompt investigation on the killing of a peasant leader here recently.

Duterte, who went on a brief visit yesterday to the wake of Celso Pojas, the spokesperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said the investigation will look into the suspicion of the peasant group, where Pojas belonged, that the military had a hand on the killings.

Pojas, also the secretary-general of the KMP-affiliate Farmers Association of Davao City (FADC), only went out to buy a cigarette at the store across the KMP office in the morning of May 15 when he was gunned down by unidentified men on motorcycle.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, he was the first political activist killed in the city, the 14th in the country this year and the 903rd since 2001, when the Arroyo administration came to power.

Duterte renewed his old warning that he will not allow the killing of political activists in the city.

I have told both the NPA and the military again and again that I do not want any killing of civilians here, Duterte said. I also told the military that if you are going to arrest someone, just pass it on to me and I will do it, provided you have sufficient reason or evidence.

He said it could be possible that a witch hunt against militants is on, but the killing of Pojas does not establish a pattern yet.

Whether they’d be plainclothesmen or soldiers in uniform, we’re going to find out who were the military men sighted in the area before the incident happened, Duterte told reporters. We’re going to verify intelligence sources to find out if the military, indeed, had a hand in the killing.

But Duterte did not set any timetable for the investigation. He said that at present, no substantial information has been drawn, yet, to establish the identity of the killers.

Pojas was about to leave for Compostela town in the province of Compostela Valley to assist evacuees displaced by the relentless military operations there when he was gunned down, according to sources from Pojas’ office.

Until Pojas’ death, Davao city has kept its reputation as a much safer place for militants amidst political killings happening in the country.

Although Duterte had repeatedly admitted his high-handed stance against drugs and criminals, he had maintained an open communication with the rebels and a tolerant stance on militants.

Duterte promised the city will go after the killers not only of Pojas, but also of tribal leader Datu Dominador Diarog, who died in April when unidentified armed men strafed his house at night. The lumad (indigenous peoples) group Pasaka said in a statement that Diarog reportedly refused to sell his 2-hectare piece of land to Pastor Apollo Quibuloy, who owned the adjacent prayer mountain. But Quibuloy denied the accusation, saying it was only intended to muddle the issue and divert the authorities’ attention away from the real culprits. Quibuloy has been known to be a close friend of Duterte.

Let’s prevent any knee-jerk reaction against these killings, the mayor said, as he told both the military and the NPA to refrain from doing any moves that will disrupt the peace and order in the city. (davaotoday.com)

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