by Mario B. Casayuran, Hannah L. Torregoza, and Elena L. Aben
Teary-eyed and repentant, retired Senior Police Officer 3 Arturo Lascañas appeared anew yesterday before a Senate inquiry and admitted to a series of killings perpetuated by the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS).
The former Davao policeman said he killed around 200 to 300 persons during his career, most of which were part of the operations of the DDS.
“The reason I made a public confession last week is because of my desire to tell all the truth not only because of my spiritual renewal but I wanted to clear my conscience… because of my sincerity to put my loved ones and myself (out of harm’s way),” Lascañas, who expressed fears for the safety of his family, told the Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee chaired by Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson.
Embracing the name of Jesus Christ, Lascañas said he could not bring his sins and evil secrets to his tomb “due to my following the orders of (then) mayor (Rodrigo) Duterte and his sincere campaign against crime and illegal drugs.”
He said his blind loyalty and obedience to then mayor Duterte led him to give the go-signal to his fellow policemen and members of the DDS to have his brothers – Cecilio and Fernando – liquidated because they became protectors of the illegal drug trade that Duterte hated.
But senators told Lascañas to back up his claims against President Duterte with solid proof and present other witnesses who would corroborate his testimony before the Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee.
“I can only advise you SPO3 Lascañas, if the objective of your extra-judicial confession is to make sure President Rodrigo Duterte and other personalities would be held liable under the law, it would be best if you present other (pieces of) evidence apart from your statement,” said Lacson.
“If you have none, you would only waste the time of the people here because your testimony and our hearing today would all be for nothing, especially against the people you are incriminating in your testimony,” the senator said.
During his testimony, Lascañas also cited an incident in which Duterte allegedly ordered the killing of 11 Chinese nationals who were arrested in a drug raid at a drug laboratory one New Year’s Eve.
During the raid, Lascañas said six Chinese nationals were killed while 11 others – including seven males and four females, were arrested.
The 11 were taken to a quarry where they were eventually killed. He identified one of the 11 Chinese nationals as Allan Sy who even allegedly tried to offer them money.
According to Lascañas, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa, who was then with the Davao City police, knew about their operations.
He cited the instance when they killed a Taiwanese national and owner of a KTV bar, who as they later learned, had a rift with one Charlie Tan.
Lascañas likewise revealed the human side of Dela Rosa, citing one instance when he stopped the liquidation of two companions of a most wanted criminal in Davao City.
“Huwag mong ituloy. Kawawa naman sila,” Lascañas quoted Dela Rosa as telling him.
Lascañas claimed he was allegedly ordered by Duterte to kill the companion of Felicisimo Cunanan Jr., alias “Sergeant Sese,” tagged as Davao’s most wanted, during an operation with the Highway Patrol Group when Dela Rosa was then the Davao City police director.
But Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella dismissed Lascañas’ latest testimony against President Duterte as “fabricated and unacceptable.”
“Arthur Lascañas has proven himself to be a polluted source and perjured witness. We, therefore, regard his testimony now as fabricated and unacceptable,” Abella said.
“First, self-confessed killer Mr. Arturo Lascanas denied the existence of the DDS during a Senate investigation hearing. Now, the same retired police officer would return to the Senate to expose the DDS,” he said.
The President had earlier admitting meeting Lascañas twice but denied giving orders to murder criminals through the DDS.
The Palace dismissed Lascañas’ claims as part of the demolition job by opponents seeking to overthrow the government. It claimed that the President has already been cleared from alleged involvement in the DDS by the Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, and a Senate justice panel, stressing that the latest character assassination is part of “vicious politics.”
In the same hearing, Lascañas apologized to the senators for lying when he denied the existence of the infamous DDS before the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon. He said his decision to recant his earlier testimony was to reveal the “whole truth” about Duterte’s liquidation squad which he allegedly formed in Davao City when he was still the mayor.
But senators could not understand why Lascañas claimed his decision was borne out of his “spiritual renewal” sometime in July or September, 2015, but still decided to lie before the Senate at the time the panel investigated Edgar Matobato’s testimony on October 3, 2016.
Matobato appeared before the joint investigation of the Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights, and of Public Order on the rampant extra-judicial killings that occurred during Duterte’s intensive war on illegal drugs and confessed to being a hired hitman of the former mayor’s death squad.
“Something doesn’t add up…Your testimony before should have gone first before your testimony here before the Senate. If you have given everything to God, then why the delay on your subsequent actions? I am confused at your actions,” Lacson told Lascañas.
But Lascañas told senators his primary objective was to “clear his conscience because I can’t carry this to the grave.” He also said he feared for the lives of his loved ones.
Lascañas also said their former boss, SPO4 Sonny Buenaventura, whom he said was a close ally of Duterte, had advised him and other police officials whom Matobato implicated in the extra-judicial killings, to deny everything.
But Lacson berated the former Davao city police official, saying he could have chosen to confess his crime before Duterte won the May 2016 presidential elections.
“You could have approached (Senator Grace) Poe or (former Vice President Jejomar) Binay back then… that is true spiritual renewal. You’ve killed hundreds, and you are trying to turn back again to God… so something doesn’t add up,” the senator said.
When Poe asked if he knows someone who can corroborate his statements, Lascañas pointed to Matobato. But she thumbed down his suggestion saying Matobato himself needs him to corroborate his testimony.
“Aside from Matobato, is there someone else, because he too needs someone like you? So you are helping him out by corroborating his statements. What about you? Who can help you?” Poe asked him during the hearing.
Lascañas said SPO4 Dick Cloribel and SPO3 Teodoro Paguidopon, who were part of his core group, could help corroborate his testimony.
For his part, Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito questioned Lascañas motives for recanting his testimony after learning that four of his business proposals were turned down by Duterte’s allies.
During the hearing, Ejercito quizzed 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 allies of the President after the Oct. 3, 2016 Senate hearing.
“It appears that our witness here ay naka-‘strike 4’ after his retirement. Wala sa apat na nilakad niyang mga pabor para sa business interests ng Davao Group tulad ng STL franchise, van terminal, quarry, at customs brokerage ay napagbigyan. Kaya siguro nagbago siya ng statement at sinisiraan na niya ngayon si President Duterte,” Ejercito said.
But Lascañas denied he was holding a grudge against Duterte because of his failure to set up business.
“No I have no ill-feelings about it sir,” he said. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)