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By Ryan Pickrell

The president of the Philippines has finally confirmed the existence of death squads in his hometown.

There has been an ongoing debate in the Philippines for years about whether or not President Rodrigo Duterte operated death squads in Davao as mayor. There has long been a question of whether or not they were even real. Duterte revealed Tuesday that the Davao Death Squad (DDS) existed; however, the president claims that he did not create it.

The president said the shady group emerged to combat the “sparrows,” a term for the special partisan unit of the New People’s Army. The sparrows were hit-men for the communists. He said that the DDS patrolled when the country was under martial law.

“You should learn more about DDS. It was organized to combat SPARU in Davao,” he explained Tuesday during an agricultural event at the presidential palace. “You can ask the people, the old guys there. It was then known as the DDS during martial law. The sparrow units and the DDS were fighting.”

The president has provided conflicting information on the infamous DDS.

“They are saying I’m part of a death squad. True, that’s true,” Duterte said last May. Shortly thereafter, he changed his tune. “There’s no such thing as a DDS. There’s only a Davao Development System,” he explained.

Since then, several self-proclaimed hit-men have testified to killing for Duterte as members of the alleged death squads.

Edgar Matobato claimed that Duterte masterminded over 1,000 death squad hits. Targets included criminal suspects, as well as political opponents, according to Matobato.

Ex-police officer Arturo Lascañas said Monday that he personally killed 200 people for Duterte.

Human Rights Watch reports that the DDS first consisted of surrendered sparrow units. Others, were death squad targets who joined up to avoid being killed.

Lascañas said that while the DDS was started under the guise of the Davao City’s Anti-Crime Task Force, its role changed.

The two men’s testimonies were dismissed by many, due to the presence of certain inconsistencies and contradictions. For the time being, it is still unclear what the DDS was and what role the president played in it.

The president has denied the accusations made against him by Matobato and Lascañas.

As president, Duterte carried out a brutal shoot-to-kill drug war, which ended the lives of around 8,000 people. Most of the deaths are believed to be the result of extrajudicial killings by rogue cops and vigilantes.

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