MANILA, Philippines – On October 3, 2016, Senior Police Officer 3 (SPO3) Arturo “Arthur” Lascañas, a senior non-commissioned police officer nearing retirement, faced the Senate to flatly deny allegations of his involvement in the so-called Davao Death Squad.
Lascañas, who had been called one of the “most powerful police in Davao” insisted the infamous kill team did not even exist.
Almost 5 months since that first appearance, and 3 months into his retirement from the police force, Lascañas once again graced the august halls of the Senate.
Flanked by veteran human rights lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), a visibly less cocky Lascañas faced media on Monday, February 20.
This time, he sang a very different tune. (READ: Ex-Davao cop: 'Sabi ni mayor Rody, patayin niyo na 'yan')
This time, his stories were similar to that of Edgar Matobato, self-confessed death squad member and among the first witnesses to go public against Duterte.
“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,” explained the retired cop, in a press conference organized by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of Duterte’s staunchest critics.
(This is to follow what God wants. This is 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 ti Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte will now end.)
He confirmed the existence of the Davao Death Squad, claiming that President Duterte – then mayor of Davao City – paid them between P20,000 to P100,000 for each kill.
Lascañas narrated the supposed hit jobs on prominent personalities that were ordered by Duterte. But it was two specific kill jobs that stirred the most emotion – those against his own brothers, who were supposedly involved in illegal drugs.
"Sa sobra kong loyalty sa kaniya, ginawa ko po ito, sarili kong dalawang kapatid, pinapatay ko. Panawagan ko po sa mga kapulisan, hindi po solusyon ang pagpatay. Mamatay man ako o ipapatay ako kuntento na ako na nagawa ko ang pangako ko sa Diyos na magsagawa ng public confession," the self-confessed hitman said, eyes welling with tears.
(Out of loyalty, I did it, I had my own brothers killed. I want to tell the police force, killing is not a solution. If I die, or if I get killed, I'm contented that I was able to do my promise to God to do this public confession.)
And so on February 20, roughly 10 months since Duterte’s historic electoral win, 8 months into the new administration, and right at a time when the police force is still reeling from allegations of itself being a death squad, Arthur Lascañas somehow decided enough was enough. (READ: Which information from Matobato does Lascañas corroborate?)
A powerful man
The chain of command in any PNP unit is clear. The appointed commander, usually the highest ranking commissioned or non-commissioned officer calls the shots. That commander’s superior has the power to override any decisions made, so the hierarchy of power goes.
But in Davao City, if Edgar Matobato, Senate witness turned whistleblower-in-hiding is to be believed, it was policemen like Lascañas – those closest to Duterte – who truly wielded power.
“Iyan [Si Lascañas] ang pinakapowerful na pulis ng Davao. Kapag hindi ka dumaan kay Arthur, hindi ka makakaposisyon sa posisyon mo. Si Arthur ang parang k'wan ni Mayor,” Matobato told Rappler in a September interview.
(Lascañas was one of the most powerful policemen in Davao. If it doesn’t get his approval, you won’t be able to get the position your want. Arthur was like the Duterte’s man.)
Lascañas scoffed at this claim back in October, not hiding his irritation when senators confronted him with Matobato’s allegations.
“I'm sorry Mr Chair, your honors... malakas ang boses ko...masama mashado ang dating sa akin. Na damage na ang mga kapatid ko because of illegal drugs dahil pulis ako wala akong nagawa... ipalabas pa na most powerful? Very wealthy, very influential? Sinasaluduhan ng heneral? Talagang pambabastos sa katauhan ko ito. Sorry,” said Lascañas in October, upon questioning by Senator Panfilo Lacson, who himself is a former police officer.
(I’m sorry, Mr Chair, your honor… my voice is louder than usual. It has a negative impact on me. My brothers are damaged because of illegal drugs and because I was a cop, I could not do anything. And now he’s making it seem that I was the most powerful? That I was very wealthy, very influential? That generals salute me? That’s disrespect to my person. I’m sorry.)
He would later admit to helping plot the murder of the same two brothers he mentioned.
According to Matobato’s narrative, Lascañas was beside him when they would “slaughter” their supposed targets.
“Hindi niya gusto na ang tao isang patay lang. Gusto niya madaming gagawin sa katawan ng tao. Pinaghihiwalay hiwalay. Iyan ang gusto nila. Parang mga sadista kung pumatay,” said Matobato.
(He didn’t want just one person to die. He wanted to work on many pepople. He would separate the bodies. That’s how he wanted to do things. They were sadists when they killed.)
During the February 20 press conference, the former cop claimed that Duterte once commissioned the killing of an alleged kidnapper and his family – the father-in-law, the pregnant wife, a 4-year-old child, and 2 elderly helpers.
He claimed the death squad started soon after Duterte came to power in Davao. “Isa po ako sa pasimuno nito (I am among those who started it),” said Lascañas.
The story of Lascañas and Matobato, now Duterte’s primary accusers over his links to the supposed Davao Death Squad, is a tangled and complicated one. In Matobato’s own words, they treated each other like brothers.
“Tumutulog, kumakain kasama ko siya. Kasi itong si Arthur mapera ito, may pera, mayaman (I would sleep, eat with him. Because Lascañas had money. He was rich),” said Matobato in September.
The retired cop himself said he initially felt bad for Matobato but latter, felt pity.
“Naawa ako in the sense na nagamit lang siya. Personal observation ko po iyon (I pitied him in the sense that he was just being used. That’s just my personal observation),” said Lascañas, upon questioning by Senator Joel Villanueva in the October hearing.
Lascañas admitted he first met Matobato in 1996. They eventually had business dealings together and the cop would invite Matobato to his birthday parties.
The retired cop was once a member of Davao City Police Office’s Heinous Crime Section. Matobato apparently worked at a gym near the compound where the Heinous Crime Section was located.
Matobato has alleged that the Heinous Crime Section was the home base of the death squad.
They had apparently forged a close enough bond that the cop eventually gave Matobato his old watch after he bought a new one – a point of debate between himself and Trillanes, who at that time was providing Matobato with protective custody.
“Your honor, kung relo lang ang basehan sa credibility, mukhang may problema yata (Your honor, if the watch is the sole basis of my credibility, then that’s a problem),” Lascañas quipped as Trillanes grilled him over the watch and his receipts.
The cop continued to make snide remarks against Trillanes during his interpellation. Watch the exchange here:
“Yung actuation mo, hindi pang-SPO3. Talagang iba (Your actuations are different. As if you’re not an SPO3. It’s really different),” the senator remarked then.
In a strange twist, 4 months after that testimony, it was Trillanes who called for the February 20 press conference that featured Lascañas.
Matobato wanted out
The relationship between Lascañas and Matobato apparently ended on a sour note, when in 2013 Matobato claimed he wanted out of the death squad. He asked permission from Lascañas.
“Matanda naman na ako, marami naman dyan na bagong training. Kasi nga, tinatanggal na nila nag mga civilian kasi baka magsalita ma’am. Nakadapa ako sa semento, inapakan ang leeg ko,” Matobato told Rappler, explaining why he left and what happened as a result.
(I was old and there were a lot who were newly-trianed. They were removing the civilians because they were afraid they would talk. I was face-flat on the cement, they stepped on my neck.)
In 2014, Matobato said he was blamed for the murder of Cebuano businessman Richard King, supposedly as punishment for his wanting to leave the death squad. Matobato fled Davao shortly after.
Ties to Davao
Lascañas has spent all his life in Davao City.
According to informed sources, he was with the Davao Metropolitan District Command Center (Metrodiscom) during the time of Ferdinand Marcos.
He first met Duterte when the latter began his political career in Davao City as the appointed vice mayor in 1986. Most of his career as a policeman was spent in Davao almost exclusively until he retired from service on December 16, 2016. Months prior, he applied for non-duty status in the police force as he waited for his retirement.
But the past month, he has been in the custody of various groups, Rappler has learned.
The retired cop offers many reasons for his sudden turnaround – God’s will, fear of the Lord, love of country, and a conscience that continues to gnaw at him.
So what can the public make of a man who has seemingly put everything – his reputation and possibly, his safety – on the line? – Rappler.com