ANOTHER self-confessed “Davao Death Squad” henchman has turned against President Rodrigo Duterte, accusing him of ordering the executions of crime suspects and paying as much as P100,000 for every kill when he was mayor of Davao City.
Arthur Lascañas, a former police officer, appeared in a news conference called by Duterte critic Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th on Monday, accompanied by members of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).
Lascañas admitted that he lied before a Senate inquiry last year when he denied the existence of the death squad, and said he could corroborate the testimony of principal witness Edgar Matobato, who claimed to have knowledge of hundreds of summary killings between 1988 and 2013.
Lascañas claimed Duterte organized the death squad.
“The Davao Death Squad is real. He (Matobato) is our member and I am one of the leaders (of the group),” he told Senate reporters.
He also claimed to have received P20,000 to P50,000 from Duterte per operation, and the payments could go as high as P100,000 depending on who the target was. He also said Duterte sometimes gave him an allowance of P100,000.
Recanting his testimony before the Senate justice committee last year, Lascañas said his conscience could no longer bear the “lies” and “suffering” he had gone through because of his “blind obedience” to Duterte.
“Mamatay man ako o papatayin ako, kontento na ‘ko na nagawa ang promise ko sa Diyos na magsagawa ng isang public confession [If I die or I am killed, I’m contented because I already fulfilled my promise to God to make a public confession],” Lascañas said.
‘Reporters paid $1,000 each’
Palace officials swiftly dismissed Lascañas’ claims, with Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar even claiming Senate reporters were paid $1,000 each to publish the “demolition job.”
Andanar however backpedaled following a statement from the Senate press corps condemning the Cabinet official’s claim.
“The demolition job against President Duterte continues. The press conference of self-confessed hit man SPO3 Arthur Lascañas is part of a protracted political drama aimed [at destroying]the President and [toppling]his administration,” Andanar said in a statement.
On CNN Philippines, he claimed: “We have received reports that as much as $1,000 were given away in the press conference. I won’t name my source but supposedly there are people who were given this amount for the coverage of the event. Journalists are supposedly handed over the money.”
Andanar later clarified that he did not accuse any particular journalist of taking the bribe.
“There was someone who offered the amount, but I don’t know if the money was received. But somebody told me about it,” said the former TV5 news presenter.
Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo claimed Lascañas received P3 million in exchange for his “confession.”
“Somebody said that Lascañas received P3 million for that. He only intends to malign the President. He is not credible,” Panelo said in a radio interview.
“President Duterte is a lawyer, and a lawyer won’t say that he is involved in an illegal activity,” he added.
Lascañas, a former Senior Police Officer (SPO) 3, narrated some of the operations carried out by his group, including one that made the name of the Davao Death Squad known to the public.
He recalled the operation against a suspected drug lord in Davao City, identified as Allan Tancio.
Lascañas said they killed only Tancio’s aide and did not seize any quantity of shabu during the raid. But they left a note that said: “Huwag pamarisan [Don’t emulate] – Davao Death Squad.”
He confirmed Matobato’s testimony that Duterte ordered a mosque bombed in retaliation for the explosion at San Pedro Cathedral in Davao City in 1993. Duterte, he said, personally gave the order to bomb mosques in Davao City but the death squad managed to bomb only one.
The DDS was also responsible for the massacre of a family, including a five-year-old boy and a pregnant woman. The husband was suspected of masterminding the abduction of a “Mrs. Abaca” more than two decades ago, Lascañas said.
The death squad was ordered to conduct a follow-up operation after the release of the kidnap victim, and was able to intercept the supposed mastermind, which he identified only as Mr. Patasaha.
The group did not know that the family of Patasaha was with him that day. As a result, Patasaha and his family members were taken to the Laud quarry, Lascañas said.
They interrogated Patasaha and later informed Duterte that the former had confessed. The then Davao City mayor, according to Lascañas, gave the order to kill them all, including the child and the pregnant woman.
Lascañas also admitted he was hired to assassinate radio broadcaster Jun Pala, a critic of Duterte, and that he got more than P2 million for it.
Lascañas became emotional when he admitted he had allowed his two brothers to be killed because of their involvement in illegal drugs.
He named other members of the DDS, such as Major Asintista, Major Macasaet, SP01 Jun Tan, SP01 Jonito Obales, SPO2 Jun Marisma, SP03 Gerry Baguhin, SP03 Teodoro Pagidupon, SP04 Florencio Pabo, SPO4 Ben Laot and SPO4 Desiderio Florebel.
Lawyer Arno Sanidad of FLAG said Lascañas recanted voluntarily and was willing to provide more information at the proper time and venue.
FLAG wants the Senate or any government body to hear Lascañas testimony. “FLAG has always stood for human rights and for accountability and we will do everything in our power to ensure that everyone from the highest position to the lowest is held accountable for their wrongdoing,” he said.
Sanidad said the serious allegations against Duterte could be used as grounds for an impeachment complaint.
“We would like to believe that when a person runs for president he presents himself as an honorable man, free of any serious crimes or legal liabilities,” he said.
Trillanes said he would ask the Senate to allow the proper committee to look into Lascañas’ latest claims.
But Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said he had no intention to listen to the testimony, adding that Lascañas should be charged with perjury.
“Lascañas has made a mockery of the solemn proceedings of the Senate. He should be made to pay for the
grave disrespect he has shown to this institution,” he said.
“Unless Lascañas can provide actual, concrete evidence to link the President to extrajudicial killings, I would not rely too much on this retired cop’s tall tales,” he added.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said he was willing to call for a hearing if the testimony is referred to his public order and dangerous drugs committee.
But he said it was unlikely Lascañas’ testimony would be referred to his committee because it is a continuation of Matobato’s testimony, which was handled by the justice and human rights panel headed by Sen. Richard Gordon. Matobato is out on bail on a murder case, and is being kept in a safe house.
Lacson said it would also be difficult to reopen the investigation because the committee had submitted a report.
with LLANESCA T. PANTI