DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 08 March) — Retired SPO3 Arturo Lascañas is the first policeman to testify before a government investigating body that there were state-sanctioned killings here under the rule of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (now President), that the Davao Death Squad (DDS) is real and not a “media hype” as he claimed under oath before the Senate committees investigating drugs-related extrajudicial killings (EJKs) last year, that he was among its leaders and that they took orders and accepted monetary rewards from the mayor after a “kill” mission.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate Committe on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs said Lascañas’ testimony has “no probative value,” and that it is now up to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to pursue their own investigations.
“We adjourned it kasi wala naman kaming nakita (probative value) eh. Wala na. Ano pang pipigain mo? Nasabi na lahat” (we didn’t see anything. None. What will you squeeze out? Everything has been said), GMA News quoted Lacson as saying after the six-hour testimony on Monday, March 6.
Lacson’s committee and the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights under Senator Richard Gordon had ruled in December that “there is no proof that there is state-sponsored policy to commit killings to eradicate illegal drugs in the country.”
The Joint Committee report was issued after hearing the testimonies of, among others, relatives of slain victims in the “war on drugs;” Edgar Matobato, the first self-confessed hitman who testified that Duterte organized the DDS; and the 23 police officers named by Matobato, including Lascanas, whom he alleged was the leader.
Lascanas testified on Ocober 3 that the DDS was just a “media hype” and that Matobato was a liar.
But in a public confession during a press conference at the Senate on February 20, Lascañas said: “totoo po ang existence ng Davao Death Squad,” corroborated Matobato’s earlier testimony and revealed new details about the DDS.
Lascanas was able to return to the Senate to testify on March 6 after 10 senators voted to reopen the investigation. Seven voted against, including Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Gordon, and five abstained, including Lacson.
The 56-year old policeman who served in the Anti-Organized Crime section of the Davao City police and the Heinous Crimes section confessed that Duterte paid them from 20,000 to 100,00 pesos after a kill mission was executed, the victim killed and buried or thrown to the sea.
The amount depends on the “status of the target,” he said.
The report also noted there was no sufficient evidence to prove that the DDS exists.
The probe on EJKs was initiated by Senator Leila de Lima in August while she was still chair of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and reports on drugs-related killings were mounting.
She wanted to find out if what happened in Davao City while Duterte was mayor was being made a template with Duterte as President. She was later ousted as committee chair and replaced by Gordon.
De Lima was chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) from 2008 to 2010 under the Arroyo administration and Justice Secretary under the Aquino administration from 2010 until she resigned in October 2015 to run for Senate in the May 2016 polls.
As CHR chair, she conducted a probe in 2009 on the EJKs allegedly perpetrated by the DDS in Davao City and summoned Duterte and several police officials to the hearing.
On Day 1 of the CHR hearing on March 30, 2009, Duterte repeated earlier pronouncements but this time under oath, that there were no state-sponsored killings in the city and that he would resign as mayor “if there is an iota of evidence” that he, the military or police are behind the killings. Duterte was on his sixth term as mayor then.
The CHR report said “a closer scrutiny of the records of cases before the Region XI Office of the Commission can narrow down the number… (to) 206 deaths attributed or attributable to the DDS during the period of 2005-2009.”
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines Davao City chapter submitted on Day 1 to the CHR its documentation of 890 cases of alleged summary killings from 1998 to March 27, 2009.
Mabuti po sa akin si Mayor”
Lacson and Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao, Alan Peter Cayetano and Joel Villanueva wondered why, despite Lascanas’ avowed “spiritual renewal” in 2015, he now claims he lied in October 2016.
Senators JV Ejercito, Pacquiao, Cayetano and Lacson probed if Lascanas’ failure to get the approval of four proposed business prospects after he testified last year led to his turnaround while Pacquiao was more direct. He asked if Lascanas was paid to testify and pin down Duterte.
Lascanas, who retired on December 16 last year, denied the allegations. “Alam ko po ang repercussions. Sinusugal ko po buhay ko, buhay ng pamilya ko for the sake of the truth,” he said, adding he was aware he could be jailed or killed.
In making his public confession that Mayor Duterte was behind the killings, Lascanas said he had no “personal motive or political motive sa President” because “mabuti po sa sa akin si Mayor” (Mayor is good to me).
Lascanas admitted receiving P100,000 a month allowance from Duterte for about 12 years, the last he received in January this year. He moved to Manila in February.
On top of the monthly allowance, he claimed he even got a bonus of one million pesos from the mayor after the killing of radio commentator Jun “Porras” Pala in 2003. He said they were earlier given P3 million to kill Pala, coursed through SPO4 Sonny Buenaventura, then the driver and bodyguard of Duterte.
Duterte had repeatedly denied responsibility for Pala’s death.
When he underwent a kidney transplant on October 2, 2015, Lascanas said Duterte sent help — P200,000 through Buenaventura and a few days later, P100,000 through his aide, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, now Special Assistant to the President.
He said he underwent a spiritual renewal when he was undergoing dialysis around July to September 2015, before his kidney transplant.
He said he estimates having killed 200 persons allegedly involved in illegal drugs and petty crimes while in the DDS. He said the composition of the 200 he killed was mixed: there were holduppers and snatchers. He said drugs-related targets would depend on the names supplied by Buenaventura through the inputs of barangay officials.
Lascanas explained, in Filipino, that during those days “my mindset was these people deserved to die because they are a menace to society. My mindset I adopted from my mentor, Major Macasaet. But when (Duterte) became mayor, all of us adopted this mindset because he also subscribed to that kind of system. We referred to that before as ‘salvaging.'”
“Salvaging” was a popular term in Davao City at the height of the fight against the Marcos dictatorship, to mean “summary execution.”
Lascanas estimated having killed around 30 persons who ended up as “collateral damage.”
When he testified in October 2016, he said he had not told his family that he was part of the DDS and that he had already explained to them his past and why he is testifying now.
He admitted seeking the help of Senator Antonio Trillanes through his contacts in the religious sector.
“Gusto ko talaga linisin ang konsyensya ko” (I really want to clear my conscience), he said.
Police in the DDS
He named other members of what he said was a “small group” of policemen who were involved in the DDS. He named the policemen who, like him, served as triggermen: “Jim Tan, Ben Purong, Rizalino Aquino, yung bago na entry is Reynante Medina” and those who were not triggermen but provided perimeter security: “Si Ronald Lao sumasama pero hindi naging triggermen. Si Jay Francia sumasama rin pero hindi din naging triggerman, kumbaga perimeter lang sila.”
He cited three groups of rebel returnees handled by the police who were also operating in the DDS: Rebel Returnees Association from Agdao whose team leader was Cris Lanay and whose police handler was SPO4 Ben Laud, another rebel returnees group from Agdao handled by SPO3 Teodoro Paguidopon and another rebel returnees group in Mandug handled by SPO1 Jim Tan.
In response to Lacson’s query, Lascanas said “kung minsan players namin magtira” (sometimes our players do the shooting) and the policemen provide the perimeter security. He said the “players” will not shoot if there are no policemen in the perimeter.
“Players” are the hitmen hired for a particular mission.
He added that sometime in 2002-2003, “nag-split po itong mga death squad” (the death squad split) when Buenaventura advised “every station commander ng city proper ng Davao City” to set up their own death squad.
“Gumawa ng sariling death squad yung every station commander, kung baga, nagkaroon na kami ngayon ng kumpitensya kasi dati solo lang namin” (Every station commander set up a death squad. In a sense, we had competition because we were the only ones doing it before), he said.
He said he is aware he could be jailed for the crimes he had confessed to have committed, “pero siguro it’s the only way to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” and “the truth will set me free.”
Lascanas said Philippine National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa, who once served as city director and regional intelligence chief, here among other posts, and former city director Vicente Danao knew about some of the killings. He cited an instance where dela Rosa intervened to spare the life of two persons Lascanas claimed the mayor had ordered killed.
Lascanas said he is risking his life to do right this time and “worthy na kung anong mangyari sa akin” (and whatever will happen to me is all worth it).”
“Ayaw ko manahin nila kamalasan dulot ng aking ginagawang pagpatay” (I do not want them to inherit the misfortunes brought about by my killings), he said of his family.
He said he wants to take the “righteous path faithfully, showing my sincere repentance by making (this) public confession.”
Lacson asked if Lascanas was sure that the dance instructor of Duterte’s sister Jocelyn, who was reportedly ordered killed by the mayor as relayed by Buenaventura is dead. He said yes. But when Lacson said he would secure an affidavit from the instructor and summon him to testify, Lascanas said what he knows is that the instructor was killed.
Cayetano said the issue at hand is that on one side there are allegations of “massive human rights violations, mass murder, state-sponsored killings” and on the other, that these are “lies, misconception, misinformation, tinatamaan ng reforma, druglords, taipans, the oust Duterte movement.”
Senator Risa Hontiveros asked if he sees similarities in the DDS killings and in the recent drugs-related EJKs. “Opo” (Yes), Lascanas replied.
Senator Francis Pangilinan asked if the war on drugs in Davao City was effective “base doon sa DDS at pagpapatay nitong mga kriminal?” (based on the DDS and the killing of criminals) and Lascanas replied, “Personal experience ko po, Your Honor, hindi po ito naging epektibo.” He said there were innocent victims who were killed and they as “operators” were victims, too, for not serving the purpose they were sworn to do: “to serve and protect.” Instead, he said, this had come to mean “to serve and collect” reward money.
Senator Grace Poe asked Lascanas where they got their firearms for their DDS operations. The latter replied they buy unlicensed .45 caliber pistols and M16 armalite rifles.
Poe asked if he could point to the burial sites in the Laud Quarry. Lascanas said he can remember in particular the burial site of the Patajasa family, including the four year old boy he talked about during his public confession on February 20. He said he had wanted to save the boy then, bring him to Butuan City and leave him at the bus terminal, but he was overruled.
On Nov. 9, 2014, the Supreme Court First Division upheld the grant of a search warrant to uncover the bones of six victims who, according to the the testimony of a first-hand witness, the DDS killed and buried at the Laud Quarry in 2005.
Poe asked if the CHR or the PNP had gone back to the quarry to have the search done.
Poe told the PNP “tagal na niyan (SC ruling) di pa napuntahan. Bakit?”
“Reality check,” said Lacson.
Lacson, a former PNP chief, said the better time to investigate would have been when Duterte was still mayor and de Lima was still CHR chair or Justice Secretary. “Bakit napabayaan itong ganitong imbestigasyon? At ngayong Presidente na saka tayo mag- iisip mag-imbestiga. Mas mahirap ho. Ito, I am just being realistic. Sabi kasi ni Senator Grace, bakit ang PNP, walang ginagawa? Sabi ko, ‘Para kang nagtanong sa pader diyan sa mga PNP. Papaano sila mag-iimbestiga na ang nasasangkot yung mayor na ngayon Presidente, na commander-in-chief nila. I’m not making judgment here, but ito iyong katotohanan sa ating buhay, ika nga.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas /MindaNews)