MALACAÑANG on Thursday downplayed claims that President Rodrigo Duterte pressured senators to block an inquiry into the claims of retired policeman Arturo Lascañas, who had linked the Chief Executive to summary killings carried out by the “Davao Death Squad” (DDS).
In a news conference, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed Duterte met with some senators on Tuesday night, but said Lascañas’ claims were not discussed.
“There is no truth to the allegation of Senator [Leila] de Lima that the senators were pressured by Malacañang as regards the reopening of the investigation on the DDS,” Abella told reporters.
“As Senator [Vicente] Sotto [3rd] said, the group of senators met with the President but they did not talk about the case of the retired police officer Lascañas,” he added.
The Palace official, however, declined to divulge the agenda of the Tuesday meeting that occurred on the same day that senators, voting 10-8 in a caucus, decided to hear Lascañas’ testimony.
Abella said that because it was a closed-door meeting, he was not aware of the topics discussed and which senators were present.
Reports said some senators allied with Duterte had tried to stop the planned Senate inquiry into Lascañas’ allegations, but more senators, in a closed-door meeting called by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, decided to go on with the inquiry.
Lascañas, accompanied by lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group in a news conference on Monday, backtracked from his previous statements denying the existence of the DDS and his involvement in extrajudicial killings when he was still assigned in Davao City.
The ex-policeman claimed that he was part of the DDS and that he participated in at least three murders in Davao City, including that of broadcast journalist Jun Pala in 2003, allegedly on the orders of Duterte, then mayor of the city.
Duterte has not commented on the allegations, although he has denied similar accusations in the past.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the allegations were a “continuing fabrication” and “another false narration.”
Lascañas’ claim will only have weight if someone else confirms it, Panelo said. “It’s easy to make claims. Testimonial evidence is the easiest to fabricate,” he said.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo backed the Senate probe on Thursday and said mere denials from the Palace wouldn’t suffice this time, noting that Lascañas’ testimony would corroborate that of Edgar Matobato, the self-confessed hit man who claimed in a Senate probe last year that Duterte was involved in summary killings in Davao City.
“The Lascañas confession corroborating the earlier testimony of Edgar Matobato on the existence and operations of the Davao Death Squad is a matter for great alarm and concern. The imputation of such monstrous crimes to the President is unprecedented in its gravity, and can no longer be brushed aside by mere denials,” Robredo said in a statement.
The Vice President also called out Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar over his false claims that $1,000 was paid to each reporter who covered the press conference of Lascañas and his lawyers Jose Manuel Diokno, Arno Sanidad and Alexander Padilla of the Free Legal Assistance Group.
“Accusations of bribery to media and ouster plots can no longer work. The fact that both witnesses have come forward to accuse the most powerful man in the country, possibly at great risk to themselves, requires that their claims be taken seriously and be given careful consideration,” Robredo said.
LLANESCA T. PANTI