Remember that crying mother who accused the Davao Death Squad, and indirectly, Davao City Mayor and now Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte for killing her children? They’re not as innocent as they’re portrayed to be.

The crying lady telling a story of how Duterte’s Davao Death Squad deliberately hunted three of her sons for no good reason may wrench hearts for the uninitiated. Mayor Duterte’s opponents and supporters are using her story to destroy his bid for the Presidency. Well, her name is Clarita Alia and thanks to an enterprising citizen named Ian Enero, we can know her whole story.

The Davao City Local Development Plan for Children says that in 2000, Davao had 1,505 street children. This figure more than doubled the following year to 3,213. According to the child-rights group Tambayan, most of the city’s street children belong to gangs, of which there are now some 150. These gangs have become the bane of the city, say the police, who blame such groups for the various crimes committed by juveniles.

Clarita Alia lives in a tiny, cramped shack in the middle of Bankerohan, the largest public market in Davao. Nanay Clarita had eight children, six by Cornelio, one by a previous lover and another one she adopted.

Richard, the second of the Alia children, had numerous run-ins with the law. In 2000, he was accused of stabbing another minor; he spent two months in jail for that. The next year, he was shot and wounded allegedly by the nephew of a traffic aide. The shooting was apparently an act of vengeance by the nephew, who was earlier manhandled by Richard’s younger brother, Bobby. “Richard vowed to exact revenge against those who shot him,” Nanay Clarita says. But he never got around doing that and was killed on July 17, 2001.

Christopher was jailed in 1997 for rugby use, when he was barely 12 years old. He was sent twice to a rehabilitation center. The first time, in 2000, he escaped. Later, he ended up in jail and was released in July 2001. On October 20, 2001, Christopher became the second Alia boy to be knifed to death.

After Richard’s death, Bobby had joined a gang called Emergency. Bobby had also been jailed, but his charge was illegal possession of a deadly weapon. Like Christopher, he had been placed in the rehabilitation center, from which he escaped after three months. On November 3, 2002, Bobby, too, was stabbed dead.

It only took a while before the Alia boys became notorious in Bankerohan. “Ask any police officer in Bankerohan or the CSU (Civilian Security Unit) and they would say that my children are almost always the first suspects in any crime here,” Nanay Clarita herself says. Neighbors would also accuse the children of being thieves.

Human rights people and Duterte’s political opponents use the story of a sobbing mother and three dead sons as a story to paint the bad side of Duterte’s harsh stance on criminals. The story goes that the sons were a case of mistaken identity. It paints an image that the sons were innocent children playing in the street.

But here’s the problem in that story. The three sons were constantly getting into trouble and the city tried hard to rehabilitate them to no avail. According to Ian’s investigation, the Davao Death Squad (DDS) used guns to kill their targets, not knives (the cause of death of all the Clarita’s sons). DDS only started using knives from 2005 to present to minimize accidental shooting of non-targets.

Another thing Ian discovered is the neighbors of Clarita all believe that her sons were killed by rival gang members. Now you might be wondering why Davao City, the image of a safe and clean city has rampant gang related violence, destructive riots and murders? Its because during the period of 1998-2001 – the mayor was not Rodrigo Duterte but Mayor Ben De Guzman.

Rodrigo Duterte needed to step away from the position because he already won three times as Mayor. He endorsed a close friend and fellow public servant – Ben De Guzman in the position while he went to become a Congressman. Of course an endorsement from Duterte makes it a sure thing and so it was that De Guzman succeeded Duterte. Now Ben de Guzman was just a disaster, allegations of corruption hounded his term and worse – crime rates went up. Especially violent gang-related ones. It was only when Rodrigo Duterte decided to fix Davao City and handily defeated Ben De Guzman in a fair election for the Mayoral seat that crime was suppressed again. But by then the sons of Nanay Claritas had made so many enemies that their death could not be reliably pinned on the Davao Death Squad.

Clarita’s loss is inconsolable but politicians determined to tarnish Duterte warped the story to demonstrate a valid concern with the Davao Death Squad. But thanks to Ian Enero’s resourcefulness, we now know that if we are looking for real stories of abuses by Davao’s DDS – we may have to look elsewhere. Duterte’s own admission is never enough, and at one point, dared the likes of Leila de Lima, who has a bone to pick with him, to file cases. That is, if they have probable cause and proof. None so far as of this writing has been filed.

(This article was written by Eric Clark Su in response to the falsehood being propagated, with in-house editing. Screenshot from Aljazeera)