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Lacson: No Malacañang pressure on Lascañas probe

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Senator Panfilo Lacson said that as far as he is concerned, there is no pressure from Malacañang not to hear the testimony of retired Senior Police Officer 3 Arturo "Arthur" Lascañas.

"I can speak for myself na walang ano. Kasi kung meron, dapat may nagpasabi na baka puwedeng hinay-hinay. Wala," Lacson said in an interview with reporters on Wednesday, February 22.

(I can speak for myself that there is none. Because if there was, somebody should have told me to slow down. Nothing.)

Lacson confirmed that the Senate will reopen the investigation into the alleged existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), but that they have yet to resolve which committee will handle the probe.

Rappler earlier gathered from sources that 10 senators voted for a reinvestigation, while 5, including Lacson, abstained.

The 10 yes votes came from: Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes IV, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Escudero, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto, Joel Villanueva, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Francis Pangilinan, Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, and Juan Edgardo Angara.

Lacson, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Nancy Binay, Loren Legarda, and JV Ejercito abstained.

According to Lacson, it was Senator Richard Gordon who insisted on not reopening the investigation.

Gordon's committee on justice and human rights previously heard the issue and put both Lascañas and self-confessed DDS hitman Edgar Matobato on the stand. Gordon later terminated the hearings and concluded that neither President Rodrigo Duterte nor the state ordered the killings in Davao City.

Gordon's committee report is still subject to interpellation, meaning the Senate has not formally adopted the conclusions.

Palace meeting?

Trillanes claimed that several senators went to Malacañang after the vote on Tuesday night, but declined to name them.

"Nagpatawag ng meeting sa Malacañang. I’m sure, hindi naman sila naghapunan lang (There was a meeting in Malacañang. I'm sure they didn't only have dinner there). You'll have to ask the senators who attended that meeting kung ano pinag-usapan nila (what they talked about)," Trillanes said.

Gordon denied knowledge of the meeting. "I had a party last night, I had somebody from Geneva, I had retired ambassadors and other secretary of foreign affairs at the Red Cross last night," he said.

De Lima, for her part, alleged that Malacañang and its allies are now panicking because of the impending reopening of the probe.

"That would very damaging so they're on panic mode," she said.

Slap on the face

According to Lacson, Gordon is taking offense with the fact that an investigation he once terminated is being reopened.

"Ang feeling doon, ang ma-refer pabalik sa committee mo, binalik sa committee level, parang sampal na 'yan sa chairman. Para naman kulang trabaho ko ibalik sa committee ko. But in this case, parang doble sampal pa kasi hindi pa sa kanya binalik, sa ibang committee pa. In that regard naintindihan namin ang sentiment ni Senator Gordon," Lacson said.

(The feeling there is, for it to be referred back to your committee, to committee level, it's a slap on the face of the chairman. It's like his work was inadequate so it's being returned to his committee. In this case, it's like a double slap on his face because it was not returned to his committee, but given to another committee. In that regard, we understand Senator Gordon's sentiments.) 

Trillanes on Monday made a formal motion to refer Lascañas' testimony to Lacson's committee on public order and dangerous drugs.

"Sabi ko I will have to abstain because committee ko ang involved. Ayaw ko naman ma-project na atat na atat ako… ayoko rin parang mabastos si Senator Gordon," Lacson said.

(I said I will have to abstain because my committee is involved. I don't want to make it appear like I can't hardly wait to hear it. I also don't want to offend Senator Gordon.)

Lacson said they will hold another caucus to decide which committee will handle the reinvestigation.

Sotto, meanwhile, said he abstained because he was "torn between two schools of thought."

"It has been the practice of the Senate na kapag ikaw may committee report, huwag mo na ibalik sa 'kin para mo namang ipinapahiya 'yung committee….The other point is baka sabihin naman nung iba na anti-government eh pinagtatakpan," Sotto said.

(It has been the practice of the Senate that if you already have a committee report, don't return it to me, you'll be embarrassing the committee. The other point is that people who are anti-government might say we're covering it up.)

'Word of honor'

Drilon said in a media interview that "at least 11" senators are in favor of the reopening of the hearing – the 10 earlier mentioned, plus Senator Grace Poe who said "she would also endorse the ruling."

"By tradition, we honor our agreements in caucus. In other words, the mechanism for calling for a caucus in order to arrive at a consensus is a time-honored practice in the Senate which is not easily disregarded," Drilon said, when asked about the Tuesday night caucus.

"Caucuses are called to arrive at a consensus and there was a consensus last night, although we had to go to a vote. But a majority clearly stated that we should hear Lascañas," he added.

Recto said since a "gentleman's and gentle lady's agreement" was reached during the caucus, the senators should honor it.

Asked whether the vote at the caucus is binding, Recto said: "Eh bakit pa tayo nagco-caucus? Ang mahalaga may word of honor dito sa Senado. Iyon ang pinakamalaking asset ng politiko – supposed to be – the word of honor. Pero nagkasunduan kahapon; there was a democratic process, may botohan."

(Then why did we hold the caucus? What's important here is that there is word of honor in the Senate. That is the biggest asset of a politician – supposed to be – the word of honor. That was agreed upon yesterday; there was a democratic process, it was subject to a vote.)

Recto noted that there are only 3 members of the Senate minority – himself, Escudero, and Trillanes – but 10, in total, supported the reopening of the investigation during the caucus.

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 or tweet @lianbuan.