Senators call for reopening of Davao Death Squad probe

MANILA, Philippines – At least 3 senators want the Senate to reopen its probe into the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS), following new accusations made by retired SPO3 Arturo "Arthur" Lascañas on Monday, February 20.

The former Davao City police officer, in a press conference called for by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, claimed President Rodrigo Duterte ordered killings through the DDS when he was still mayor. Lascañas said they were paid by Duterte to kill.

It was a reversal from his testimony in a Senate hearing last October, where he denied claims of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato about the existence of the death squad and his involvement in it.

"Hindi ko inasahan, it's such a hair-raising thing. Nung lumabas si Lascañas, talaga namang nagulat kami. This is definitely very explosive. Dapat talaga mag-resume dito kung ano mang committee," said Senator Leila de Lima, who had presented Matobato as witness.

(I didn't expect it, it's such a hair-raising thing. When Lascañas surfaced anew, we were really surprised. This is definitely very explosive. A Senate committee should definitely resume the probe into the DDS.)

"Nilait-lait nila si Matobato, kinuwestiyon nila ang kredibilidad, nilait-lait nila ako for producing Matobato, and here comes this very explosive [confession by Lascañas]," De Lima added.

(They kept on criticizing Matobato, they questioned his credibility, they criticized me for producing Matobato, and here comes this very explosive confession by Lascañas.)

Serious allegations

For Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Lascañas' serious allegations must be looked into "for the benefit of all personalities and the Filipino people."

"In light of this new information, the Senate must undertake an impartial, transparent, and independent investigation," Aquino said in a statement.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also said Lascañas could be "a source of reliable information" on the DDS and on the accusations against Duterte.

"The revelations made by SPO3 Arthur Lascañas today are a direct stab at the credibility of President Rodrigo Duterte and undermine his moral capacity to lead.  They strengthen suspicions that the death squads responsible for thousands of unsolved extrajudicial killings are state sanctioned," Hontiveros added.

"I call on the Senate to provide the necessary venue for Lascañas to divulge everything he knows about the DDS and the alleged involvement of the President."

Reopening 'not automatic'

Both Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senator Panfilo Lacson pointed out that a resolution must first be filed before they can officially discuss whether or not to reopen the probe.

"It depends on the evaluation of the senator if he or she believes that it is important enough to be embodied in a resolution, he is free to file a resolution but that is still subject to plenary's disposition of the resolution, and the committee chair's action on the resolution," Pimentel told reporters.

"In this case, meron nang (there's already a) committee report. To bring it back to the committee, rarely ine-exercise 'yan (that's rarely exercised)," Lacson also said in a chance interview.

Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, added that Lascañas could face perjury charges since his statements are contradicting.

"Ang problema kasi, under oath siya noong nag-testify rito. So if he will again testify under oath, open siya sa perjury. Makakasuhan siya definitely. Hindi naman puwedeng magkaibang statements mo parehong totoo," the senator said.

(The problem is he was under oath when he testified here. So if he will again testify under oath, he'll be open to perjury. He'll definitely be charged. You can't have two contradicting statements that are both correct.)

'More revelations' under oath

In last year's Senate probe, the committee on justice and human rights, led by Senator Richard Gordon, had said they found no concrete proof that the DDS existed.

But Gordon previously said they would be open to investigating the DDS again if there would be more witnesses other than Matobato.

Lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), who are representing Lascañas, said he would reveal more – including why he initially denied the existence of the DDS – when he is again under oath.

Pimentel, however, said Lascañas' new statements should not just be taken at face value. The Senate President is a key Duterte ally.

"Huwag tayong masyadong magulat, o lumundag sa tuwa, not because very explosive ang sinabi. Tandaan mo sinabi lang 'yun, malayo pa 'yun sa katotohanan. Hindi po pruweba 'yun dahil lang sa nagsalita," Pimentel said.

(Let's not be so shocked, or jump for joy, just because the things he said were explosive. Remember, that's just according to him, that's still far from the truth. His words are not enough proof.)

"You can say very explosive things, but that should be tested through cross examinations, background check, research of the facts," he added. – 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.

image