A RETIRED police officer who accused President Rodrigo Duterte of heading the Davao Death Squad when he was still a mayor apologized to the Senate Monday, saying he had been forced to lie when he testified under oath in October last year that the vigilante group accused of killing more than 1,000 people did not exist.
Senators at the hearing of the Senate committee on public order and illegal drugs, however, were skeptical of the new testimony of retired police officer Arthur Lascañas, who recanted his October 2016 testimony before the panel.
At that time, Lascañas contradicted the testimony of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato about the existence of DDS, saying it was just media hype.
At the hearing Monday, Lascañas said he was compelled to tell lies and counter Matobato’s testimony because he feared for the life of his loved ones, after SPO4 Sonny Buenaventura ordered him to “deny everything” that Matobato said about the killings in Davao and Duterte’s role.
He said Buenaventura is also one of Duterte’s longtime aides who got direct orders from the President.
“The reason… I made my public confession is… my desire to tell all the truth, not only in pursuit of my spiritual renewal and fear of God. I wanted to clear my conscience. That’s the reason I approached the Church people. Because of my sincerity… for the sake of truth,” said Lascañas, who has confessed to having killed 200 people on his own.
But some senators cast doubts on Lascañas’ credibility and motivation for retracting his earlier statements.
The chairman of the panel, Senator Panfilo Lacson, questioned Lascañas’ failure to recall the name of his first victim after he told Senator Grace Poe that he personally killed almost 200 people.
At that point, Lacson interjected and expressed disbelief that Lascañas could not recall his first victim and yet he remembered eating noodles while narrating the killing of former soldier Jun Bersabal in 1997.
“You can’t recall the first person you killed but you remembered when Bersabal was killed? It has been a long time, right? But during the killing of Bersabal you remembered the pansit. But you couldn’t even remember the name of the first one you killed,” said Lacson.
Lacson, a former police chief, said he wanted to test Lascañas’ credibility as a witness.
Lascañas said he only remembered that as a rookie policeman, he accidentally shot and killed a bystander while pursuing a snatcher.
But Poe did not seem satisfied by the answer and said Lacson had a point about how he should have remembered the name of his first victim.
When Poe asked Lascañas if other DDS members could back his testimony, the former policeman said he was not sure.
Poe said if other witnesses would corroborate Lascañas’ testimony, that would strengthen his allegations, but as of now, nobody has showed up to support his claims.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who filed a resolution calling for a reopening of the hearing, defended Lascañas and told the committee that there were still other witnesses who had volunteered to testify but he could not compromise them.
“I believe in time, everything will just fall into place,” said Trillanes.
But Poe said that in the search for truth, evidence should give value to testimony.
Lacson agreed, saying if Lascañas wanted to hold the President accountable under the law, he should provide evidence beyond his testimony.
“If not, our time might just be wasted because our hearing might not bear anything against the personalities you are tagging,” Lacson told Lascañas.
As chairman of the committee, Lacson said he has grown averse to “flip-flopping statements made under oath,” citing his own experiences with witnesses who testified against him.
“Thus, characters like Ador Mawanay, Udong Mahusay, Cesar Mancao, to name a few, who changed their sworn statements as if they were changing their socks from white to black, or vice-versa may have influenced my natural aversion to self-contradictions,” he said.
Senator JV Ejercito also questioned the motives of Lascañas in recanting his testimony in the Senate after four of his business proposals were turned down by known allies of the President.
Ejercito probed Lascañas of his attempts to put up several businesses such as getting a small time lottery (STL) franchise, establishing a customs brokerage, application to operate a van terminal and operations in Davao City, and in supplying a quarry for the proposed 53 kilometer Coastal Road in Toril-Bunawan–all of which Lascañas confirmed were rejected by Duterte’s men after the Oct. 3, 2016 Senate hearing.
“It appears that our witness has hit four strikes after his retirement,” Ejercito said in Filipino. “Not one of the four projects he wanted were approved. Maybe that is why he has revised his statement and is trying to ruin President Duterte.”
Ejercito also twitted Lascañas for turning back only now from Duterte and not immediately after his “spiritual renewal” in September 2015.
He also wanted to ensure that Lascañas and his lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group were not being used for any plot to destabilize the government.
Senator Manny Pacquiao also demanded that Lascañas tell only the truth. He questioned Lascañas’ assertion that he does not harbor any ill will towards the President when all the favors he asked for were rejected. This was not in consonance with how a person will react, Pacquiao said.
In his testimony, Lascañas said Duterte, known in the DDS as “Superman” also ordered PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa to kill people.
Lascañas said he and Dela Rosa had worked together in targeting Felicisimo Cunanan Jr., the most wanted criminal in Davao Del Sur. He said Dela Rosa was then the chief of Davao City PNP.
Lascañas said he shot Cunanan dead because he did not surrender to him but spared the life of his driver and another companion who surrendered. He said they later brought them to the Heinous Crimes Office.
Duterte then arrived, berated Cunanan’s companions, then left after an hour. But before leaving, Lascañas recalled, Duterte instructed him and Dela Rosa to kill Cunanan’s companioms.
He said Dela Rosa then accompanied Duterte to his vehicle while he went to his office. Dela Rosa came in and told him not to proceed in killing Cunanan’s driver and his companion as they were in a pitiful situation. However, he was directed to file a case against one of them (the companion) for illegal possession of a gun and to release Cunanan’s driver.
He also remembered Dela Rosa telling him he would handle it if Duterte asked about them. He said a certain SPO2 Rizalino Aquino witnessed their conversation inside his room.
He also told the senators how Duterte ordered the killing of 11 Chinese nationals and a Taiwanese man, who victimized innocent people.
He said said the bones of alleged DDS victims were dug up in Laud quarry a week before the 2009 visit of then-Commission on Human Rights chief and now Senator Leila de Lima. He said some of the bones were thrown in the lake near the quarry owned by former policeman Bienvenido Laud.
Lascañas also said the President’s son, Mayor Paolo Duterte, was the protector of a Charlie Tan, a Taiwanese national suspected of being involved in illegal drugs.
The mayor has denied Lascañas’ allegations.
At the same time, the President’s sister, Jocellyn Duterte-Villarica denied Lascañas’ claim that he had killed a dance instructor that had fooled her years ago.
“I am at this very moment listening to the Senate hearing… It is nothing but a farce,” Duterte-Villarica said. “The dance instructor he is talking about is alive, and his name is Ruben Borja Baguio.”
She urged Trillanes to “try harder next time.”
“Senator Trillanes, if you get a witness, make sure that the testimony is certified, true and correct. You just look stupid. And you’re wasting the salary that the people pay you,” she said in Filipino.
After more than five hours, Lacson closed the session and said no further hearings on the allegations would be held as Lascañas had nothing new to say.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II played down Lascañas’ testimony and said his allegations cannot be used as a basis to impeach Duterte.
“These acts alleged against President Duterte are not impeachable offenses because they involve supposed crimes committed during his term as mayor of Davao City. Impeachable offenses, on the other hand, cover only acts committed during a president’s tenure in office,” Aguirre said.
The Justice secretary described the statements of Lascañas as mere “rehashed story” that has already been raised against Duterte in the past, but did not prosper due to the lack of material evidence.
The President’s chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said Lascañas’ lies were becoming more obvious.
“It’s a fabrication. As pointed out by Senator Lacson, there is a contradiction between his statement in the press conference and in his affidavit executed the day before he made the press conference. And he admitted that he had no personal knowledge of the killings…. This admission he also made upon questioning by Senator [Alan] Cayetano,” Panelo said. With John Paolo Bencito, Rey E. Requejo and F. Pearl A. Gajunera