MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A veteran Davao policeman on Monday, February 20, appeared at a press conference to corroborate earlier claims by whistle-blower Edgar Matobato on the involvement of President Rodrigo Duterte in the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS).
"Totoo po ang Davao Death Squad (The Davao Death Squad is real)," declared Senior Police Officer 3 Arturo "Arthur" Lascañas, who retired from the Philippine National Police in December last year.
"Sa bawat papatayin namin sa DDS babayaran kami ni Mayor Rody Duterte, minsan P20k, minsan P50k, minsan P100k (For each kill, Mayor Duterte would pay us P20,000, sometimes P50,000 or P100,000)," Lascañas said at a press conference organized by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), a group founded under the Marcos regime composed of human rights lawyers such as La Salle Law Dean Jose Manuel Diokno, Arno Sanidad and Alexander Padilla.
Lascañas' statement on Monday was a turnaround from his Senate testimony in October 2016, where he debunked Matobato's claim then about the existence of the DDS.
Lascañas is known to be one of the policemen closest to then mayor Rodrigo Duterte, according to Matobato and other PNP sources.
Even before he ran for president in May 2016, Duterte would admit his involvement in his city's death squad but would later qualify that he's teasing. A year before he ran for president, Duterte told a radio show: "Am I the death squad? True."
Rappler learned Lascañas has been in the custody of various groups for over a month now.
Jun Pala's murder
At the press conference, Lascañas said it was Duterte, then mayor, who asked his driver/bodyguard, Sonny Buenaventura, to look for a hitman. Lascañas said he accepted the contract to kill radio commentator and Duterte critic Jun Pala in 2003. He was offered P3 million as reward, Lascañas said. P500,000 was set aside for operational funds.
Lascañas said they eventually got to Jerry Trocio, part-time bodyguard of Pala. It was Trocio who tipped the group about the right time to do the ambush, Lascañas added.
Lascañas also talked about the murder of a religious leader, Jun Barsabal, in 1993.
Barsabal, who was arrested in Samal island, was ordered killed for grabbing and squatting on lands in Davao. Matobato had claimed that 5 mayors, including then-mayor Duterte, "plotted" the operation to kill Barbasal.
Lascañas confirmed this. "Sinabihan kami ni Mayor Rody in Bisaya na 'patayin 'nyo na 'yan (Barsabal)," he said. (We were told by Mayor Rody in Bisaya, kill him.)
He recalled that he and other Davao cops were investigated for the murder and were grilled about it by the Commission on Human Rights, which was then headed by Senator Leila de Lima.
Lascañas said they were assured by Duterte that the investigation will not prosper.
Lascañas has executed an affidavit and is ready to testify before any government agency, including the Senate, Sanidad said. (READ: TIMELINE: Witness lists killings allegedly 'ordered' by Duterte)
The Senate committee on justice and human rights, previously led by De Lima until she was ousted from the post and replaced by Senator Richard Gordon, already declared that it has found no evidence of the existence of the Davao Death Squad.
But Lascañas has the support of a legal team that will pursue his allegations.
"We are here to provide him legal assistance," Diokno said. "When he appears under oath before the proper bodies, you will be in a position to assess whether he's telling the truth or not."
Diokno stressed that they believe Lascañas is credible. Otherwise, he added, they would not be defending him. (READ: Meet Lascañas' battle-tested FLAG lawyers)
Killing of brothers
"Tanggap ko na po kung ano ang mangyayari sa akin (I accept the consequences of my action)," Lascañas said.
He made an appeal to his fellow policemen, saying that killing is not the solution to crime. "Panawagan ko sa mga kasamahan ko sa kapulisan, hindi solusyon ang pagpatay (To my fellow cops, killing is not the solution)."
Lascañas added: "Mapatay man ako o ipapatay, kuntento na ako na nagawa ko ang pangako ko sa Diyos na magsagawa ng public confession (Whether I die or get killed, I'm content with the thought that I have fulfilled my promise to God to make a public confession)."
Holding back tears, the retired policeman recalled that he himself was involved in the murder of his brothers who were involved in illegal drugs.
Lascañas' previous denial
His Monday statements contradicted a testimony he gave the Senate in October 2016. (READ: Davao cop denies Matobato's DDS claims: 'All lies')
Facing the Senate, Lascañas rejected the claim of Matobato at the time that he was close to Duterte and was part of the death squad.
He then 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 in October.
“Kasinungalingan po iyan, your honor (That’s a lie, your honor),” Lascañas said then, when asked by Senator Panfilo Lacson if he was close to the former Davao mayor. – Rappler.com