Lascañas on Davao Death Squad: “media hype” in October; real in February

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 Feb) — At the Senate Committee hearing on extrajudicial killings on October 3 last year,  SPO3 Arthur Lascañas in his testimony under oath, vehemently denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), dismissing it as merely a “media hype.”

Four months and 17 days later, Lascañas, identified by self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato as the DDS team leader who received direct orders from then Mayor (now President) Rodrigo Duterte, was back at the Senate for a press conference, accompanied by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), where he spoke about the origins of the DDS and how he participated in several killings, allegedly on instructions of the mayor.

Lascañas, then still in active duty and wearing his uniform, denied Matobato’s claims in October but corroborated his testimony in February.

“Patutunayan ko na tototo ang sinabi ni Edgar Matobato” (I will prove that Edgar Matobato told the truth),  said Lascañas, who underwent a kidney transplant before the October testimony and retired on December 16.

“Totoo po ang existence ng Davao Death Squad,” Lascañas said.

The 56-year old policeman, who served in the Anti-Organized Crime section of the Davao City police in 1990 and the Heinous Crimes section from 2001 to 2010, confessed on Monday that the mayor was paying them  20,000 pesos,  50,000 or 100,00  after a successful kill mission is executed, the victim buried or thrown to the sea.

The amount paid depends on the “status of the target,” he said.

Matobato testified last year that Lascañas was very close to Duterte and that the “kill” orders were issued by the mayor through Lascañas.

“Hindi po totoo yan. Sinungaling po si Edgar Matobato” (That is not true. Edgar Matobato is a liar,” Lascañas said.

He acknowledged there were killings in the city but “yung pinagsasabi ni Matoaboato (what Matobato has been saying) especially linking my person, walang katotohanan yan” (there is no truth to that).

Pala murder

In the same testimony in October, he repeatedly denied involvement in the murder of  radio commentator Juan “Jun” Porras Pala on September 6, 2003 but on Monday, admitted he was tasked to kill Pala, a plan they executed although their first two attempts to liquidate him failed.

He claimed his team was paid P3 million to plan and execute the killing and even narrated how he bumped into Duterte in a mall and was allegedly told “take (your) time” after a failed attempt to liquidate Pala.

Duterte has repeatedly denied responsibility for the murder of Pala, a staunch critic. whom he described as an example of “lowlife” in media. He has also repeatedly stressed there were no state-sanctioned killings in his war on drugs while mayor of Davao City.

Grilled by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano last year, Lascañas repeatedly denied involvement in the DDS.

“Sabi ni Matobato, team leader ka sa DDS,” Cayetano asked. Lascañas replied: “Di totoo. Walang DDS (Not true. There is no DDS).

Cayetano asked if he was involved in the bombing of a mosque after the 1993 bombing of the San Pedro Cathedral, as alleged by Matobato. His reply: “Kasinungalingan” (Lie), but in Monday’s press conference confessed his involvement, using a grenade.

Blind loyalty

When asked by Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao in October what statement of Matobato was true, replied: “Pangalan nya lang po siguro (Maybe only his name), your honor.”

He denied Matobato’s claim that he was very close to Duterte.

When Senate Committee on Human Rights chair Richard Gordon asked if Lascañas thinks he is “malakas” (has strong connections) with the mayor, he replied in the negative. He cited the killing of his two brothers who were linked to illegal drugs, Cecilio in 2011 and Fernando in 2014.

He said his brothers were killed by the Davao Police but “wala akong nagawa” (I could not do anything.”

“Kung malakas ako kay Mayor, bakit hindi ko natulungan sila?” (If I had strong links with the Mayor, why wasn’t I able to help them?)

On Monday, he blamed the death of his brothers on his “sobra kong loyalty sa kanyang campaign” (my blind loyalty to his campaign).

“Dahil po sa sobra kong loyalty sa kaniyang campaign, sarili kong dalawang kapatid, pinapatay ko” (my own brothers I had killed).

Public confession

Asked by Senator Panfilo Lacson in October what he thought Matobato’s motives were in testifying about Duterte and the DDS, Lascañas said: “sa personal ko lang po, baka politika. Gusto nya siguro sirain si President Duterte.”

On Monday, Lascañas said the even if he dies or is killed, “kuntento na ako na nagawa ko ang promise ko sa Diyos na magsagawa ng isang public confession” (I am contented now that I have been able to do as I promised God, to make a public confession).

Lascañas called on his colleagues at the Philippine National Police that “killing is not a solution.”

“Managot tayo sa batas ng tao at batas ng Diyos. Uusigin kayo ng konsensya natin hanggang sa katapusan ng angkan natin” (We have to be accountable to the people and to God. Our conscience will hound us forever), he said.

Sr. Supt. Michael Dubria, Davao City police chief, told ABS-CBN Davao’s TV Patrol that he told his police “dili magpaapekto sa testimonya ni Lascañas” (not to be affected by Lascañas’ testimony) and “for them to continue their jobs and not get affected by any statement or whatever press release being conducted” on Lascañas’ statements. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)