By Leandro DD Coronel
The main thing to remember about the Senate testimony of retired SPO3 Arthur Lascanas of the Davao City Police is that he had nothing to gain and everything to lose.
What would a retired policeman gain out of accusing President Duterte of having been the mastermind of the alleged Davao Death Squad (DDS) when Mr. Duterte was city mayor? What would anyone gain by pointing an accusing finger at the most powerful official of the land?
This past Monday Lascanas officially took back his earlier testimony that confessed DDS member Edgar Matobato had lied to the Senate about Mr. Duterte’s involvement in summary killings in Davao City. He confirmed “90 percent” of Matobato’s earlier expose.
Accusing the President of masterminding extrajudicial killings is a grave charge. Matobato had earlier done that, and Mr. Duterte’s defenders had denied the charge. And now comes Lascanas, who had earlier said in a press conference that he lied the first time he was at the Senate where he said Matobato lied about Mr. Duterte and the DDS.
Senators allied with Mr. Duterte questioned mightily Lascanas’ motive in changing his earlier statements. Sens. Manny Pacquiao and JV Ejercito lenghtily tried to trap Lascanas into admitting he had a personal motive in now accusing Duterte. Pacquiao even asked repeatedly if Lascanas had been paid off to recant his earlier testimony.
But Lascanas coolly stood his ground. At his earlier press conference a couple of weeks ago, Lascanas was at times emotional. This time he was composed and firm.
Lascanas and Matobato have now both pointed accusing fingers at Mr. Duterte as behind the DDS. The alleged death squad had been a legend in Davao City, a phenomenon that has been considered an open secret there. Indeed Lascanas said that the current summary killings happening in Metro Manila and around the country bear the marks of the DDS killings of the past.
So, what’s the truth? Are Lascanas and Matobato credible? The senators want more proof. Sen. Grace Poe, for one, wants Lascanas to find someone who could corroborate his accusations.
Judicial courts require a witness’ story backed up by another witness. Journalistic practice, too, needs at least two sources to make a story credible. Lascanas and Matobato corroborate each other’s statements.
During the Senate hearing last Monday, Lascanas appeared confident about his statements. He didn’t read from notes, answered questions without much hesitation, and didn’t look to his lawyers to bail him out.
Matobato, during his turn earlier at the Senate, didn’t have notes, either, but he was not as confident as Lascanas. They related basically the same stories but Lascanas was more authoritative.
That can be explained by Lascanas’ senior position in the police force (and allegedly in the DDS) and the fact that he was more educated, even going to law school (but not taking the bar exams). Matobato had a limited education and, according to him and Lascanas, was low in the DDS hierarchy.
Are Lascanas and Matobato credible? Are they telling the truth?
While the Senate hearings were billed as a search for the truth, not all participants were after the truth. Ideally, such investigative exercises are indeed in search of the truth so laws can be crafted to address specific ills in society.
At the Senate hearing last Monday, those who believe Lascanas wanted the truth to come out. But Mr. Duterte’s allies appeared to be more interested in protecting him than in finding the truth.
That is the problem with politicians. They don’t always serve the interests of the people and the nation. Rather, they serve their political and personal interests. In that, they persist even when it’s too apparent that they’re serving partisan interests.
When they do that, it’s the nation that loses.
Tantrum Ergo. Sen. Manny Pacquiao is missing a golden opportunity to be a true champion of the masses. Instead he seems happy to be the hitman of the majority in the Senate, where often he embarrasses himself when he opens his mouth.