THE Philippine Senate should take a long, deep breath before calling for a public inquiry by the chamber to probe the veracity of the shocking revelations of retired Davao City police officer Arthur Lascañas concerning the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) during the mayoralty of President Rodrigo Duterte in that city.
A thorough investigation of his allegations is indubitably imperative, but we are not convinced that the Senate is the proper body to do this task fairly and effectively, and without the impulse to grandstand before the media and the public.
After months of Senate hearings on the alleged extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in the government’s war on drugs, the chamber, through its blue-ribbon committee and its public order and drugs committee, did not turn out a successful investigation. It has failed up to now to come up with a joint committee report that the public can judge on its conclusions.
In fact, we now have reason to fear that the Senate could wind up impelled to apologize to the witness, self-confessed killer Edgar Matobato, who boldly testified before the chamber about the existence of the death squad, the many killings it perpetrated, the role that he personally played, and the alleged role of then Mayor Duterte in ordering some of the killings.
The hapless witness was berated, scorned, and denounced as a liar by several senators for his allegations. And then the chamber filed a charge of perjury against him.
That ghastly treatment and ill-considered indictment will have to be eaten by some senators, if the new claims of Lascañas prove to be well-founded.
Lascañas not only corroborates some of the key aspects of Matobato’s testimony, he squarely alleges that then Davao City Mayor Duterte directed the operations of the DDS, and even paid as much as P100,000 for a single killing. These allegations must be fully subjected to careful examination.
The allegations against President Duterte raise the stakes of an inquiry to a high level of public importance and significance that must be treated with great competence and judiciousness.
The implications of such an investigation are so great, that there will be a temptation at one end to whitewash the probe. And there will be at the other a desire to exploit it for publicity and political advantage.
Neither should be allowed to happen. Instead there should be an exhaustive and unsparing investigation.
Congress should consider appointing a special commission to investigate Lascaña’s declarations, as well as Matobato’s earlier testimony in the Senate.
The inquiry should be separated from the other, and also necessary, inquiry to get to the bottom of the drug killings, which continue to confuse and alarm.
The nation must not forget that gruesome claims about the DDS have been in existence for some time, and yet no administration has had the guts to determine their truth. It is surely time for the nation to get the truth, however or whoever it hurts.