Lacson's public order committee to handle Lascañas probe

MANILA, Philippines – Despite the objection of Senator Richard Gordon, the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson will reinvestigate the alleged existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

This is according to Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who is also the chairman of the committee on rules, and Lacson himself.

The probe follows the new claims of retired Senior Police Officer 3 (SPO3) Arturo "Arthur" Lascañas, a self-confessed DDS hitman.

"It's still with [the] public order [and dangerous drugs committee] but [the committee on] rules will study the procedures on such eventualities. Anyway, Ping can't call a hearing on the matter yet because he has other things in the agenda of the committee," Sotto said.

"I'm coordinating with the office of the proponent, Senator [Antonio] Trillanes [IV], for the submission of Lascañas' sworn statement, and thereafter, find out who else we will invite as resource persons. The moment the committee receives a copy of his sworn statement, I will schedule in compliance with the 3-day notice rule," Lacson said.

The Senate, through a majority vote during a caucus held on Tuesday, February 21, decided to reopen the investigation on the alleged existence of the DDS. Trillanes previously made the motion to refer Lascañas' testimony to Lacson's committee on public order, rather than the committee on justice and human rights chaired by Gordon.

In a speech on Wednesday, Gordon reiterated he will not hear Lascañas' testimony.

"After our hard work to craft the legislation necessary, you will say you changed your mind? You come here and you lie, you only get one chance, you don't get to have a second chance," Gordon said, referring to Lascañas' turnaround testimony from when he last faced the Senate probe and denied the DDS ever existed. 

Special committee

Amid the differing opinions on the powers of committees to investigate an issue, Senator Grace Poe manifested to create a special committee to probe Lascañas.

"Lascañas may have perjured himself by making allegations that are diametrically opposed to what he had previously given under oath before the justice committee. This opportunity that we will give ourselves to hear and scrutinize these allegations before a special committee [that may be organized] would definitely not absolve Mr Lascañas from any criminal act that he may have already committed," Poe said.

Lacson said he supports Poe's motion. 

"It's not that I am willing, it is a mandate and it is my obligation to hear it. I will yield to the wisdom of the body, and I'm not objecting to the manifestation of Senator Poe to create a special committee," Lacson said. (READ: Lacson: No Malacañang pressure on Lascañas probe)

But Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said there is no need to create a special committee to hear the issue.

Attempt to block

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who has been noticeably absent from Senate sessions and hearings of late, showed up on Wednesday and tried to block the reinvestigation.

After hugging Gordon, who delivered an impassioned speech explaining why he is opposed to the reinvestigation, Cayetano argued that it is under Senate rules not to switch committees on the same issue.

According to Cayetano, it is only Gordon's committee on justice and human rights that is allowed to reopen a matter it had earlier heard.

"Never nating ginawa sa Senado na tinanggal ang jurisdiction sa isang committee (It has never been done in the Senate that we removed jurisdiction from one committee). The only way to take it off the hands of that committee is to get the signature of 5 committee members," Cayetano said.

He added: "I'm sorry I do not have the moral ascendancy to speak about it because I wasn't here yesterday because I was meeting with some diplomats and foreign investors, but the situation now is, do we want to throw the rulebook to the wastebasket? Do we want to take away the traditions of the Senate that it's always the chairman who will decide?" Cayetano said.

Cayetano's contention was referred to the committee on rules.

According to Senator Francis Pangilinan, it is possible that Lacson will wait for comments from the committee on rules but it is likely that Lacson's committee will push through with the probe.

"Siguro hihintayin niya 'yung magiging comment ng [committee on] rules. But in this case, how can the [committee on] rules refer it to a committee where the chair said on record he will not hear?" Pangilinan said.

(He will probably wait for the comment from the committee on rules, but in this case, how can the committee on rules refer it to a commitee where the chair said on record he will not hear it?) – with reports from Camille Elemia / Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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