• Extra-judicial confession: Time for human rights commission to prove its worth



    First read
    “ITO,” asked Sen. Manny Pacquiao of SPO3 Arthur Lascañas, “sino ang magpapatunay ng bago mong testimony ngayon?” (Who will prove the truth of your new testimony today?)

    I watched with skepticism the Senate hearing yesterday on the police officer’s allegations about the Davao Death Squad (DDS) and President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged role in DDS killings in Davao City when he was still the mayor there. I could not understand why the Senate would want to hear a witness whose main purpose is to recant his earlier testimony before the chamber in October last year.

    And yet, after enduring the thing from morning to afternoon, I came away reassured that the new members of the Senate (notably Senators Pacquiao, Ejercito, Hontiveros, Villanueva, Angara and Aquino) are capable of bearing the high responsibility of the Senate, and preserving the dignity of a Senate inquiry.

    Senator Manny was, for me, a revelation in his direct questioning of Lascañas. He questioned the witness expertly, and a touch solemnly, about his claim of “spiritual renewal” as the reason for changing his testimony.

    First extra-judicial confession
    Before opening yesterday’s hearing, Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, read aloud Supreme Court decisions that ruled negatively against the veracity and reliability of recanted testimony.

    Independent or recanted confession, the high court said, cannot stand alone, without corroboration.

    Lacson also introduced a new word into the national vocabulary for the war on drugs: extra-judicial confession. The term means presumably a confession offered voluntarily or outside the judicial process.

    The Lascañas confession or testimony should fittingly go down in history as the first recorded EJC.

    The big thing missing in the Davao story is that there are no crime gangs battling or shooting it out with the police.

    Lascañas testified that in over 90 percent of DDS operations, the targets did not fight or shoot back. This stood in stark contrast to the claim of the Philippine National Police (PNP), that some 3,000 of the casualties in the current drug war were killed while fighting the police.

    Lascañas’ narrative played like a police procedural. I can see from one eye how an imaginative script writer could turn the story of the DDS into a movie, like the excellent Hollywood film, LA Confidential, which turned new actors into stars.

    A glossary of the terms the witness used to describe the DDS operations would include the following:

    Players – hitmen/killers, Filipino and foreign

    Assets – police informers and helpers

    Salvaging – killing of targets

    Force multipliers – assets which increase the effectiveness of the force.

    Collateral damage – people other than targets who are accidentally killed in a DDS operation.

    Riding in tandem – killers who ride in a motorcycle in doing a hit.

    Packing tape – the packaging of victims for disposal in common graves

    Reward system – payment for the killing of targets – from P20 to P50,000 per kill.

    Erase – kill a target

    Contract killing – killings by the DDS and heinous crimes group, that are disguised as police operations.

    Spiritual renewal – change of heart about killing for a spiritual reason.

    Business of killing – the economics of killing.

    Quarry – place of burial for victims of the DDS.

    Superman – Davao Mayor Rody Duterte

    Spiritual renewal
    One interesting side story concerned the late Col. Ernesto Macasaet, erstwhile team captain of DDS. He gave Lascañas this advice: “In the business of killing, trust no one.”

    Macasaet was targeted for liquidation. He died of a stroke, before the contract could be executed.

    Macasaet was the mentor and godfather in marriage to Lascañas.

    The story of Arthur Lascañas was detailed; he named names, victims and fellow police killers; and he had no hesitation citing the name of Rodrigo Duterte in ordering some of the DDS killings.

    The trajectory of his life went like this:
    • Member of police in 1982
    • Got into trouble for a couple of homicides. DU30 helped in extricating him.
    • Went AWOL in 1985.
    • Reinstated in 1989.
    • Had a kidney transplant in 2015.
    • Retired in 2016.
    • His wife works at the Davao city hall.

    Lascañas came to depend on the money for the killings because of his dialysis treatment for a kidney ailment. The treatment became unnecessary after his kidney transplant.

    Lascañas got P100,000 per month from Duterte as compensation; to earn the money he had to do the corresponding killings at the rate of P 20 to 50,000 per hit.

    By his personal admission, Lascañas said he killed or participated in the killing of 200 to 300 victims.

    When Gen. Ronald Bato dela Rosa became Davao City police director, Oplan Tokhang was launched in the city.

    Why did Lascañas change his story? The details are grim.

    He was complicit in the killing of his two brothers, who were drug pushers and possible drug traffickers. Their rubout now haunts him.

    He has had an apparition, which made him change his ways.

    He said he decided to tell all because he can’t bear to bring to the grave all the killings and sins on his conscience.

    He says he knows he will be imprisoned. But he is prepared; testifying is the only way to set himself free.

    His closing words are not kind to DU30 and the drug war. DDS was not effective. The drug trade still exists up to now in Davao City. Lascañas does not believe the drug war will be effective nationwide.

    Human rights commission must prove its worth
    Listening to the inquiry, it struck me that this is preeminently the time when the Commission on Human Rights should prove its worth and provide its service to the nation.

    The commission, if it were really doing its job, should be able to answer the question whether the DDS did exist. It can provide a confident answer to the question whether human rights were violated in the city, or how the Davao practice was expanded to national level in President Duterte’s war on drugs.

    The CHR acts as if it were a constitutional commission, comparable to the Commission on the Civil Service, the Commission on Audit, and the Commission on Elections.

    The pertinent constitutional provision reads:
    Sec.17 (1) There is hereby created an independent office called the Commission on Human Rights.

    (3) Until this commission is constituted, the existing presidential committee on human rights shall continue to exercise its present functions and powers.

    The commission is composed of a chairperson and four members. The Constitution requires that a majority of the commission’s members must be lawyers.

    Significantly, the current chairman, since the years of President Benigno S. Aquino III, is not a lawyer.

    The Supreme Court of the Philippines, in Cariño v. Commission on Human Rights, 204 SCRA 483 (1991), declared that the commission does not possess the power of adjudication, and emphasized that its functions were primarily investigatory. The commission can resolve conflicts through mediation and conciliation.

    At the time when Senator Leila de Lima was chairman of the CHR, during the Arroyo presidency, the CHR tried to investigate the alleged DDS killings in Davao City. The commission retreated from the challenge in fear of the formidable barrier posed by the city government of then Mayor Duterte.

    Through all these years, the commission has been unable to establish with any certainty that there was or is a Davao Death Squad, or that there were extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in Davao City.

    When asked at yesterday’s hearing, the CHR commissioner present could only testify to the commission’s inutility and powerlessness.

    If ever a government body has not earned its budget, the CHR is it. Today, it has been content to cheer the occasional reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and the US State Department.



    Please follow our commenting guidelines.


    1. That is why you cannot rely on testimonies. Hard evidence is always more credible like documents and paper trail that are authenticated. Testimonies can change and it doesn’t matter if it is corroborated since any one can join forces with someone to make a false testimony. For me, this view also applies to Delima. The only hard evidence we can prove against her is not the testimonies of the convicts but the FACT that the drug trade flourished during her watch and lavish lifestyles were allowed as well. She can be pinned down for neglect of duties and other administrative misconduct and trangressions and lose her pension and other benefits. No one can really prove she received drug money because it is a case of he said she said. But what happened in the national bilibid prison is very telling of her partiality since she was the head of the DOJ at that time and even admitted she did random inspections.

    2. I like how he recounted shooting 9 of 11 chinese drug manufacturers during the Dumoy, Toril raid.

      I can still remember that New Years day headline saying 6 unnamed chinese looking drug manufacturers were killed in a shoot-out. We were made to believe that Alan Sy was able to escape, some said he was allowed to escape, etc. Never to be heard again, now we know he was finished off. They deserved it, good for them.

      Now on SPO3 Lascañas, I really dont know why Trillanes believes him and his spiritual renewal thing. Listen, carefully, in the years to come, one day he will retract again. Well, that’s the script.

      After Digong’s term, who is your witness against him? Nada! For now the SPO3 will get his millions of course, maybe even from both sides. Or maybe I have been reading lots of conspiracy novels. Well, spiritual renewal, I dont believe that s h i t at all. You directly killed 200 bad guys and indirectly involved in another 100 killings and now you feel sorry for everything. That’s full of bs really.

    3. I was asking myself, is dreams or apparition is accepted as testimonies or relevant statements at the court or special hearings like what we had at the senate??? Forgive me, its sounds crazy, even iam only an ordinary man, i could not accept this kind of testimonies in any way. Is it in our laws that dreams can be accepted as testimonies?What about the Witch??? This man means our lawmakers so stupid and idiot..In civilize nation like Europe or America, will they accept “Dreams” or Apparition as testimonies by the Witness. Dream of What?? if i said i dreams that the end of the world is coming..will they accept it??Maybe the people will think iam crazy , just like Mr. Lascanas..

    4. why is no one in teh Senate asking lascanas TO NAME those he killed?

      Sino nga sila?? give me teh details of your killing spreee–names dates how etc. puro naman generalities– walang details

      at baki ka may journal??? eh encdece against him yu??? illogical di ba???

      • esp the very first hit, he should know the name of the bad guy and where he did it. It is like the fist time you had sex, one remembers all the details, pati yong kaba of course.

    5. So, if the constitution requires that the CHR chairman should be a lawyer, why the heck that Gascon still on the helm? He should be booted out …Pronto! Such a useless dimwitt!

      • No, you one can’t boot any CHR comissioner once appointed unless his term expires, or a court case has been filed against him. The president has no power to remove him. Also, the constitution says, the majority members should be lawyers. Baka naman 3 na ang lawyers. The constitution does not say that the chairman should be a lawyer.

    6. Hoping the Lascanas “spiritual renewal” be honest, that is, an on-going story. Not a ‘one-time’ experience, as some did-honest claimants manifest, to have oneself changed at his/her depths (conscience), one needs undergo a series of stages of inner cleansing. This series could be daunting for the false-minded and ill-hearted -as the saints testify, the likes of Paul of Tarsus (St. Paul), Ignatius of Loyola, Augustine of Hippo, John of the Cross, and Mandela, to name some. Lascanas’ “change of heart” should remain palpably continuing both in his (renewed) lifestyle and focused sense of mission (or truth and liberty). Then, he’d be a lighted candle in the midst of darkness. CHR must be critically alert to the signal, weak at the start but gradually getting strong toward the end.

      • Jose Samilin on

        The alleged spiritual renewal was uncovered by Sen.Manny Pacquiao as fake, that it happened in September and the following month of his testimony in October are being recanted today as lies. What is the use of this Senate hearing if all testimonies constitutes all lies because there is no complete detail of the killing activities, let alone ask about the 200 names of all persons murdered, Lasdanas answered as already forgotten. Then how much more other details as when, where, why, how, etc., etc., What is the use of this hearing if after all by law President Duterte is allowed by law a 20 years statute of limitation under Act No. 3326 as amended, under Article 90 of the Penal Code, only crime punishable by reclusion perpetua or reclusion temporal prescribe in 20 years. If indicted after his term end in the middle of year 2022, then all these alleged crimes committed before year 2002 had all been prescribed.

        By missing all these significant details of the case by the Senate we have just incurred unnecessary expenditures in terms of about million of pesos in taxpayers money for nothing. We just hope we have Senators elected who are reasonable and knowledgeable persons who would value every centavo of taxpayer’s money.

    7. Diego Talahib on

      The problem that beset the current CHR now is because the current chairman of the CHR was not the most senior member of the board when he was appointed to be the Chairman. He got the appointment only because of his strong connection to the Appointing authority that the the former president. He was not appointed based on merits. There were other more capable senior members of the board who were non-lawyer as well as lawyer.

    8. The Great Defiant on

      he was visited by a demon the other night…
      an advance party perhaps…
      poor old man…sold his soul to a 30 pieces of silver…

    9. The CHR is a government organization who contributes no value. It does not have a function to perform in the system and should be disbanded.

      • When the budget for CHR was not yet defined, Gascon was almost siding with Duterte. And when the budget was approved, Gascon aganin is anti-Duterte. hahahahaha See what kind of a person the CHR chairman?

      • If no voice is dissenting againt a murderous government, the murders would continue.

    10. aladin g. villacorte on

      To rephrase a dialogue between two characters in F.Sionil Jose’s novel:
      One can run away from the truth or hide the truth for a while but it always comes out. There will always be someone, friend or foe, who knew what you did. And the killer himself, he holds the truth. He cannot run away or hide from himself. Yes, he may not be punished. He may not even feel guilty about his crime, but it is there hidden in a corner of his consciousness – it will always be there to persecute him. I am speaking of conscience