Redemption or destabilization? What Arthur Lascañas is about
MANILA, Philippines – Without warning, Arturo "Arthur" Lascañas, alleged Davao Death Squad hitman who directly implicated President Rodrigo Duterte in killings carried out by their group, quietly slipped out of the country on April 8.
"I have received threats that a lawsuit would be filed against me, and there are also people looking for me as well," he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, just as he was about to leave the country – for how long, he wasn't sure.
It's an odd exit for a man who, from working in the shadows, emerged to hog headlines after confessing his bloody and grisly past as a member of the infamous death squad.
“Ito ay pagsunod ko sa kagustuhan ng Diyos at labis na takot sa Diyos. Pagmahal sa bansa natin at sa sarili kong konsiyensiya. Dahil dito, dito nagwakas ang blind obedience at loyalty ko sa isang tao. Kay Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte,” the 56-year-old retired policeman said in a press conference on February 20, 2017.
(This is to follow what God wants and also because of my fear of God. This is also because of love for our country and because of my own conscience. Because of this, my blind obedience and loyalty to one man, Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte, ended.)
What followed was a flurry of activity – the Senate allowed him to testify before the chamber under oath, legislators belonging to a party accused of destablization plots were stripped of their committee chairmanships, and Lascañas was finally allowed to tell his story, recanting a previous one also delivered under oath, before the Senate.
Over the course of a 6-hour hearing, the former policeman answered question after question – both from friendly and adversarial forces – about a death squad that, he claimed, was founded and handled by President Duterte during his almost two decades as Davao city mayor.
Nearly a month later, Lascañas’ testimony would be cited in the first impeachment complaint against Duterte.
Two weeks after that fateful press conference, Lascañas moved around confidently in a tiny apartment somewhere in Metro Manila, his home since turning whistle-blower.
He offered a soft handshake and flashed a shy smile. He showed no signs of anxiety over the controversy that hounded him at the time.
Strangely enough, Lascañas was at peace.
There was no fear, there was little worry. Because for the first time in almost 30 years, the former cop said he finally slept well at night.
In true "hitman" fashion, Arthur Lascañas slipped out of sight on Saturday, April 8.
Ordinary policeman, extraordinary dreams
“Kanang kahadlok, inherent na sa isa ka normal na tao. Pero accepted ko na, kung unsa tanan mahitabo nako. Sauna nahadlok ko, adtong wala pako makasulti… pero karon nahimo na nako tanan, naa nako'y public confession. Kung baga, okay nako. Mas murag nakagawas ko sa akoang kahimtang sauna,” he told Rappler in an interview.
(Fear is inherent in any normal person. I’ve accepted whatever may happen to me. At first, I was afraid, especially before I was able to speak…but now I’ve done everything, including a public confession. I’m okay. It’s like I’ve gotten out of my situation before.)
“Sauna misking gadawat ko 100,000 ang allowance, monthly... mura man gihapon ko'g nakakulong. Gubot akoang konsensiya. Karon? Mas okay man nuon. Maayo akong tulog,” he adds.
(Before, even if I’d get a P100,000 allowance monthly, it felt as if I was imprisoned. My conscience was not at peace. Now? I’m better off. I sleep well.)
Arthur Lascañas did not flinch – not even a bit – when he talked about smashing heads, shooting suspects point-blank, sinking bodies into the ocean, and being passively complicit in the murder of a child.
These were all the things he allegedly did as a member of the Davao Death Squad.
But asked to describe himself, Lascañas was quick to say he’s an “ordinary” policeman.
“Usa ko ka ordinary na pulis na nakahimo ug daghang sala, pinaagi sa pagpatay (I’m an ordinary policeman who committed many sins because of killing),” he told Rappler.
His story goes something like this: In 1982, he, the son of a policeman, decided to be a cop himself, mostly because it was among the easiest jobs to get then.
A few years after, he killed the wrong person during an operation and was sued. He went on AWOL (absence without leave), but returned to the police force in 1989, as soon as his case was resolved. It was then that he found himself a member of the city police’s “anti-crime unit” organized by the late Major Ernesto Macasaet.
This, according to Lascañas, was how the Davao Death Squad began.
“Iyong grupo namin, kami po ang original death squad (Our group was the original death squad),” he said.
At first, he said, the job was a “noble” one because they were chasing after the “menace” of society.
“Kaya hindi na sila makapamerwisyo, kaya iyon ang naging mindset namin (That's why they stopped causing harm, that was our mindset then),” he said.
Soon enough, the group became hitmen not only of suspected criminals – the scum of Davao City – but of personal and political enemies as well. But he was still being paid and Lascañas did not really mind.
It took more than decades before he began to even think seriously about the life he has so far led.
In 2014, Lascañas said he “embraced God, Jesus Christ.” He was diagnosed with kidney problems and was going through a personal crisis too.
It was also in 2014 when Lascañas was “visited by a devil” in a dream. “Wala na nga akong bisita, iyon pang demonyo ang naging bisita ko. And then na-picture ko ang sarili ko noon as talagang napakasama ko pala,” he said.
(It was bad enough that I had no visitors. And it had to be the devil to visit me. And then I pictured myself as a really bad person.)
This was the “spiritual renewal” that was a turning point in Lascañas' life. Right there, he decided he needed to tell the truth about the supposed death squad.
Then he lied about the same death squad at the Senate while under oath.
“Your honor. Wala pa akong nabasang libro sa law na yung test of credibility, relo (I have yet to read a law book that says the test of credibility is a watch),” said Lascañas on October 3, 2016, after denying without any shadow of doubt the existence of the Davao Death Squad.
Trillanes at the time was trying to prove that the watch given by Lascañas to Edgar Matobato, the first self-confessed DDS to go public, indicated a relationship between the two men. It was also a measure of Motabato's credibility with regard to his claims about the death squad.
The crowd at the Senate session hall erupted into laughter.
The senator at the receiving end of Lascañas’ witticism – his future protector, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV – was not amused.
“Namimilosopo ka na. Alam mo, inoobserbahan ko ang demeanor mo. Alam mo yung actuation mo, hindi pang-SPO3. Talagang iba (You’re being sarcastic. You know, I’ve been observing your demeanor. Your actuations aren’t that of an SPO3’s. It’s really different),” a visibly peeved Trillanes shot back then. The senator tried to challenge Lascañas’ story and compare it to that of Matobato.
This was Lascañas all throughout that October 3 hearing – cool, collected, and confident even as opposition senators questioned his denial and insisted that Matobato was telling the truth.
This is probably why 4 months later, when Lascañas retracted everything he said and turned whistle-blower, several senators – Duterte allies especially – just would not have it.
World-renowned boxer and neophyte senator Manny Pacquiao, a staunch Duterte ally, badgered Lascañas no end, asking him if he was a paid hack. The senator then asked Lascañas himself what he’d make of a situation – the same one he was in – where a witness made a 180-degree change from an earlier testimony.
Lascañas admitted he’d doubt the veracity of the second testimony himself.
Lacson, who chairs the committee that accommodated Lascañas’ testimony, said this sealed the deal.
“Ang most revealing, coming from him, [na] kung siya mismo nasa posisyon na magtatanong siya mismo magdududa sa ginawa nya (The most revealing thing coming from him is that if he was in our position, he himself would doubt his actions),” said the senator.
And so after roughly 6 hours of talking, being interrogated, and truth-telling, Lascañas’ exposé before the Senate ended the same day it began.
Lascañas’ claims aren’t really new.
Matobato had made the same allegations. But Lascañas said that unlike himself, Matobato was not a death squad insider and didn't know everything.
For years, Lascañas said, he pledged loyalty and devotion to the man he still calls “mayor.”
And even if he has turned his back on Duterte, Lascañas has mostly good things to say about the man he once called boss.
“Sa una ko pagkakilala personal kay mayor, he’s a good leader especially sa aming mga pulis in terms of law and enforcement (I know him personally to be a good leader, especially when it comes to police and law and enforcement),” he told Rappler.
Duterte, said Lascañas, had a fondness for women and guns – a fact that the President himself admits – while still being a decent man when it came to his family.
But when it came to criminals, it was a different story.
“Matigas ang puso niya kasi inuutusan niya kami na patayin ang kriminal. Mainit ang ulo niya is meron siyang temper na kumbaga i-describe ko ay, sarili ko lang ano, ay he has this momentum of lethal temper,” said Lascañas of Duterte.
(He also has a hard heart because he would order us to kill criminals. He's hot-headed, he has a temper that I would describe as, this is just me, he has this momentum of lethal temper.)
Referring to his former boss as “Superman”, Lascañas said: “He can easily summon us or somebody to kill someone as he wishes. Pagkagusto niya ipapatay, talagang ipapapatay niya (If he wants a person killed, he will really have that person killed).”
“They are all lies,” said the former Davao mayor, who has shown low tolerance when talking about criminals.
It is April 2017. It's been more than 3 decades since Lascañas entered the police force and 4 months since he retired his police uniform.
The things that used to haunt him – his mercenary history, the people he supposedly killed, a life he belatedly realized he could not be proud of – are all past.
He said he is no longer bothered by these ghosts. And in many ways, this is perhaps what makes Lascañas a worrisome threat to others – whether he is here, in Singapore, or some place else. – Rappler.com