Philippine politics

Ex-Davao hitman Arturo Lascañas resurfaces as Uniteam sinks

Jairo Bolledo

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Ex-Davao hitman Arturo Lascañas resurfaces as Uniteam sinks

Illustration by Marian Hukom/ Rappler

'Siyempre, unang-una, wala na siya (Duterte) sa power ngayon. At pangalawa, naging witness na ako sa kanyang kaso sa crimes against humanity sa ICC,' Lascañas says, explaining his reappearance

MANILA, Philippines – In hiding for years to safeguard his own security, self-confessed hitman and former Davao Death Squad (DDS) member Arturo Lascañas resurfaced in the middle of a heated political landscape marked by a bitter exchange between the Marcoses and the Dutertes – once formidable allies in the “Uniteam.”

On Wednesday, January 31, the retired cop spoke in an online press briefing which reporters had easy access to. It was Lascañas’ first free-for-all interview since he went into hiding after exposing former president Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged hand in killings carried out between 2011 and early 2016. The killings were allegedly executed by the DDS during Duterte’s term as vice mayor and later mayor of Davao.

Lascañas has been granted limited immunity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is investigating Duterte’s alleged death squad and the drug war. He had named Vice President Sara Duterte and then-presidential aide Bong Go in the affidavit submitted to the ICC and disclosed details about them in the press conference.

When asked why he made an appearance, Lascañas told reporters it was because Duterte was no longer in power: “Siyempre, unang-una, wala na siya (Duterte) sa power ngayon. At pangalawa, naging witness na ako sa kanyang kaso sa crimes against humanity sa ICC. So kailangan na magmatapang ako na lalabas at lalabas, at hahamunin ko talaga itong halimaw ng Davao, kung sino sa amin ang nagsasabi ng totoo.”

(Of course, first, Duterte is no longer in power. Second, I already became a witness in his crimes against humanity case in the ICC. So, I need to be brave and be out there, and I will really challenge this monster of Davao, to show which one of us is telling the truth.)

A few years back, Lascañas speaking to the media would have been unthinkable because of the high risks involved. His appearance on Wednesday was far from confidential and he did not hesitate to answer questions and divulge information he already included in his affidavit submitted to the ICC in October 2020. Rappler had reported extensively on this in a series of stories way back in 2021. (READ: THE LASCAÑAS AFFIDAVIT | ‘I killed for Duterte’)

Before the Wednesday press briefing, Lascañas also spoke with writer Antonio Montalvan II, where he reiterated the alleged involvement of his former principals.

The reiteration of allegations in Lascañas’ affidavit came before and after the January 28 twin rallies organized by the two dynasties that flexed their political muscles. Duterte accused President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of being a “drug addict” – a charge he countered by saying it’s Duterte’s fentanyl that explained this kind of erratic behavior. (READ: Fentanyl facts: What are its side effects and overdose symptoms?)

On Wednesday, Lascañas warned Marcos to be careful of the Dutertes.

Ex-Davao hitman Arturo Lascañas resurfaces as Uniteam sinks
Accusations vs Sara, Bato

Lascañas alleged that it was Sara, as Davao City mayor back then, who allowed the implementation of Oplan Tokhang, the anti-drug operation crafted by former Davao City police chief-turned-senator Ronald dela Rosa. The operation was later implemented in the entire country under Duterte.

Hindi lang niya alam na ‘yong ginagawa ng kanyang tatay na drug war, bogus drug war, nag-imbento talaga siya ng bagong trademark ng extrajudicial killings in the name of tokhang. At dito, pinayagan niya si (then-) police colonel Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa na i-impose ito sa Davao City,” the self-confessed hitman said.

Ang dami pong namamatay dito (Davao City), ang daming nami-missing. Nag-imbestiga ba si Sara Duterte? Wala. Nag-imbestiga ba ang Davao City council? Wala,” he added.

(She did not just know about her father’s drug war, a bogus drug war, she really invented a new trademark of extrajudicial killings in the name of tokhang. There, she allowed then-police colonel Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa to impose it in Davao City. Many people were killed in Davao City, many went missing. Did Sara Duterte conduct a probe? None. Did the Davao City Council investigate? None.)

The self-confessed hitman said in his affidavit that they were given a “kill, kill, kill” order by Duterte himself, and then later on by the former president’s daughter. Lascañas also alleged in his affidavit that the tokhang operations in 2012-2013 got clearance and approval from Sara and her father.

In a statement on Thursday, February 1, the Vice President said the allegations against her were a “new script,” adding that she had never been implicated before in the issue.

Bigla na lang nagkaroon ng testigo laban sa akin nang mahalal ako na vice president. At kabilang na nga ako ngayon sa mga akusado sa International Criminal Court. Maliban sa tiyempo, malinaw na sadyang pinilit lang na maidugtong ang pangalan ko sa isyung ito para ako maging akusado sa ICC,” Sara said.

(Suddenly, there was a witness against me when I was elected vice president. And I am now among the accused before the International Criminal Court. Besides the timing, it’s clear that they are forcibly linking my name to this issue to make me an accused before the ICC.)

Dela Rosa also commented on the allegations: “Sige, pabayaan mo lang siya mag-allege siya nang mag-allege. Basta malinis ang konsensiya ko, bahala siya sa buhay niya.” (Go ahead, let him allege all he wants. My conscience is clear, he can do whatever he wants.)

Bong Go’s ‘participation’

Senator Bong Go, Duterte’s long-time aide, did not escape Lascañas’ accusations. According to Lascañas, there were instances when the aide-turned-senator relayed the “kill orders” from Duterte and gave the DDS payments after tasks were completed.

Lascañas also disclosed that it was Go who provided them their targets’ personal information which he obtained from the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

Well, si Bong Go po ang nagpo-provide sa amin ng mga personal information data ng Land Transportation Office sa mga target personalities na pinapapatay ni Mayor Rodrigo Duterte…Ito, kumpleto po sa detalye kung saan nakatira ang target, ano’ng sasakyan ang gamit niya, at ano’ng kulay ang sasakyan,” Lascañas claimed.

So, matagal namin ito po nga ginagawa, no’ng start ng Davao Death Squad kaya maraming casualty.

(Well, Bong Go was the one who provided us personal information data from the Land Transportation Office about the target personalities Mayor Rodrigo Duterte ordered to be killed. The information was complete, including the target’s address, the vehicle type, and its color. So, we did this for a long time since the start of Davao Death Squad that’s why there were a lot of casualties.)

Lascañas said in his affidavit that they got confidential information from the LTO about anyone who had a driver’s license – this helped them execute their plans better. The portion of the affidavit submitted to the ICC that alluded to the LTO made no mention of Go, however.

In a statement on Thursday, Go said Duterte never gave such orders. He added that Duterte never ordered him to do anything illegal.

Ako rin naman personally, wala rin akong ganyang listahan na kinuha o nakita man lang sa buong talambuhay ko. Hindi rin naman ako gagawa ng anomang iligal. I don’t follow illegal orders from anyone, kahit sino man sila,” Go said. (Me personally, I did not get a list of that kind, nor saw one in my entire life. I will not do anything illegal. I don’t follow orders from anyone, whoever they are.)

Lascañas, a strong force vs Duterte

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde, in a message to Rappler, underscored Lascañas’ importance in the ongoing ICC probe into drug war killings under Duterte.

“The testimonies of witnesses like Lascañas are obviously crucial for accountability. We hope that his courage in speaking out will encourage other witnesses of the ‘drug war’ violence to provide information to the ICC,” Conde said.

Lascañas remained loyal to Duterte for over three decades. He lost two of his brothers who were suspected of being linked to illegal drugs.

As early as 2017, Lascañas started revealing the alleged ties of the Dutertes to the killings. After initially denying disclosures of another self-confessed DDS member Edgar Matobato (READ: Edgar Matobato: Liar or truth-teller?), Lascañas ended up corroborating information from Matobato regarding the involvement of former president Duterte in the killings.

In his Senate testimony in March 2017, Lascañas also linked Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte to the illegal drug trade – an allegation that he has repeatedly denied. (READ: Lascañas: Duterte son protected alleged drug lord)

Rappler learned that Lascañas’ affidavit was among the reasons why the ICC pre-trial chamber agreed on September 15, 2021, to authorize the probe into the killings under Duterte’s watch.

Lascañas remains to be a strong force against Duterte because of his intimate knowledge of the former president’s alleged crimes. Some of his allegations were adopted by no less than the ICC. – with a report from Bonz Magsambol/

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.