MANILA, Philippines – Who’s the most powerful cop in Davao City? It certainly isn’t Senior Police Officer 3 Arthur Lascañas, if he is to be believed.
Appearing at the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Monday, October 3, the 55-year-old Lascañas denied allegations of close ties to former Davao mayor and now President Rodrigo Duterte.
The committee previously heard a whistle-blower's allegations linking Duterte to the so-called “Davao Death Squad,” a loose vigilante group that supposedly targets criminals and personal and political rivals of Duterte and his son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.
In a series of testimonies, Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman of the infamous death squad, disclosed the alleged plots made by the death squad, allegedly on orders of Duterte or his most trusted cops, including Lascañas.
Duterte and his allies have denied Matobato’s allegations, which have sparked outcry from human rights groups and the international community. The Duterte administration has accused its chief critic, Senator Leila de Lima, of using Matobato for her own political agenda against him. She was ousted as justice committee chair after she presented Matobato last month.
On Monday, 16 policemen from Davao appeared at the Senate upon summons from the committee. As of 5:30 pm Monday, 3 of them have testified and debunked Matobato's allegations.
“Kaya itong issue ni Mr Edgar Matobato... 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, upon questioning by Senator Panfilo Lacson, who himself is a former police officer.
(So this issue Mr. Edgar Matobato brings up… 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.)
Another Davao policeman, retired police superintendent Dionisio Abude, who used to head the Davao City Police’s heinous crimes division, denied the existence of the death squad.
“Wala pong Davao Death Squad, your honor. Media hype lang po yan (There is no Davao Death Squad, your honor. That’s just media hype),” he told the Senate committe. (READ: Ex-Davao heinous crime unit chief fined for failing to solve killings)
He echoed a previous statement of his former boss, now Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa. (READ: Davao Death Squad 'creation of media' - Dela Rosa)
Abude, the first witness during the Monday hearing, denied Matobato’s claims that the city police's heinous crimes division was made specifically to target – or more specifically, kill – witnesses. Matobato has also said that the Davao Death Squad targets suspected criminals and even personal and political rivals of President Duterte and his son, current Davao Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.
The retired police superintendent showed old news clippings to prove that the division worked to arrest criminals lawfully, even showing an old video produced by an energy drink when he was awarded for being a “Pinoy hero.”
Abude and Lascañas however admitted to knowing Matobato.
Lascañas narrated how two of his brothers – Cecilio and Fernando – were killed by his fellow cops from the Davao City Police Office because of ties to illegal drugs.
If Matobato's claims about his close ties to Duterte were true, his brothers would not have died, he said.
“Kasinungalingan po iyan, your honor (That’s a lie, your honor),” Lascañas said, when asked by Lacson if he was close to the former Davao mayor.
Upon prodding by Lacson, Lascañas said he suspects “somebody” must be behind Matobato’s claims now.
“I’m sorry, baka mali ako. Mahirap pong…. personal ko nalang po ito (I might be wrong. It’s hard to accuse, this is just my personal take,” said Lascañas, when asked who was “behind” Matobato.
Prodded again on what he thinks Matobato’s motives were, Lascañas relented: “Sa personal lang po. Baka pulitika (This is just my personal take. It might be politics).”
Lascañas admitted that he knew Matobato, but only because he had business ties with him in the buying and selling of copra.
He insisted that Matobato was not part of the Davao City Police Office’s heinous crime division since he was not a cop but eventually relented when asked if the supposed hitman was a civilian member of the police unit.
Matobato claimed that orders from Duterte were sometimes handed down through Lascañas.
Lascañas said he did not know why Matobato pinned the blame on him, insisting that even in Davao City, he is not known to be close to Duterte.
“Eh gusto niya siguro sirain yung President… Mayor Rody Duterte. Yung mga lahat ng sinasabi niya – patayan, DDS, yung pagkain sa buwaya. Hindi naman po totoo iyon,” said Lacsañas.
(He wants to destroy the President, Mayor Rody Duterte. Everything he’s saying – the killings, the DDS, feeding people to crocodiles. Those aren’t true.)
Asked what part of Matobato’s claims were truthful, Lascañas quipped: “Pangalan lang siguro niya (Probably just his name), your honor.” – Rappler.com