International Criminal Court

Green Heights roundup: Workers killed for knowing about shabu lab

Rappler Investigative Team
Green Heights roundup: Workers killed for knowing about shabu lab

Graphics by Emil Mercado/Rappler

The Davao Death Squad killed and dumped in a mass grave the bodies of at least 5 construction workers. Their supposed offense: they knew about a second shabu laboratory linked to Michael Yang.
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The killings and clandestine burial of 11 people arrested during a raid on a drug laboratory in Davao City in December 2004 would not be the last operation that a former gunman of President Rodrigo Duterte would witness in relation to Chinese businessman Michael Yang.

Between 2010 and 2013, Duterte’s Davao Death Squad picked up five or six male construction workers from the Green Heights Subdivision in Barangay Buhangin in Davao City, executed them, and buried them in the Laud quarry, according to a former DDS hitman. 

Their supposed offense: they knew about the shabu laboratory in an apartelle adjacent to their construction site. 

And that lab was found to have alleged links to Yang – just like the shabu lab raided in another area in the city in 2004.

At the time of the Green Heights incident, longtime mayor Duterte had slid down to vice mayorship while his daughter Sara served her first term as mayor.

Yang, through his lawyer Raymond Fortun, said the allegations were “without factual basis.” He added, “Former PDEA Chief Aaron Aquino has already cleared me of the drug charges.”

Duterte himself has repeatedly shielded Yang – whom he would later appoint as presidential economic adviser – from allegations he was involved in illegal drugs. Even the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Wilkins Villanueva, put him in the clear, saying his name had never cropped up in investigations nor operation plans.

Arturo Lascañas, one of the original members of the DDS, detailed what he knew of the incident in a 186-page affidavit submitted to the International Criminal Court in October 2020. The affidavit formed part of the basis for the ICC to green-light an investigation into state-sponsored killings during Duterte’s years as Davao mayor and Philippine president. 

Unlike the shabu lab raid of 2004, where Lascañas confessed carrying out the kill order himself, he said the murder of the construction workers was done by other DDS hitmen, and he only witnessed the bodies being dumped into a mass grave in the Laud quarry. 

This was the same quarry that, before the incident, had already been searched by the Commission on Human Rights in 2009 as part of its probe into the operations of the death squad. Vitaliano Aguirre II, the lawyer of the quarry owner, said at the time that the bones dug up from the site were from World War II. President Duterte would later appoint him as secretary of justice.

Assets provided leads on the shabu lab

In his affidavit, Lascañas narrated how his independent sleuthing led him to Yang’s tracks. 

The tip that a shabu laboratory was operating in an apartelle unit in Green Heights came from Jimmy Duran, an informant who got paid through city hall, Lascañas said. 

According to Duran, he got the information from the girlfriend of a construction worker (who was also Duran’s friend-asset). The girlfriend was a house helper in an adjacent apartelle unit, and told her boyfriend that her master “was a Chinese businessman engaged in chemical research business.” 

Lascañas further wrote, “Her ‘amo’ or master wore white over-all uniform inside his master’s bedroom converted as mini-laboratory with several laboratory equipment inside, per her observation during her twice-a-week cleaning work routine in the room of her ‘amo.’” 

The construction worker told Duran about this because he knew that Duran was a civilian operative of the Heinous Crime Unit of the Davao City Police Office. 

Lascañas said he and another policeman, Jim Tan, did surveillance work on the Chinese businessman and his other companion for three or four days. Duran joined the two cops as did his construction worker friend, who acted as their spotter inside the subdivision. 

They observed this routine of the Chinese businessman and his companion: they would use a Toyota pick-up vehicle and travel from Green Heights Subdivision to the DCLA building parking lot along Quezon Boulevard in Davao City. The building belonged to Michael Yang.

The former DDS insider said he got reminded of the shabu lab workers and chemists they killed in 2004 – a number of them were “employees of Mr. Michael Yang’s DCLA Business establishment in Davao City.” 

Sammy Uy called, Yang’s friend moved in

To know more about the occupant of the apartelle unit, Lascañas said he “concocted a cover story” to obtain information on the sly from the owner of the subdivision, a certain Ely Luy, whom he personally knew.  

“I told Mr. Ely Luy that I have a friend who is a court sheriff who sought my assistance to serve a court notice regarding a forcible entry case in one of the apartelle unit occupants inside his subdivision…. I gave Mr. Ely Luy a fictitious Chinese name, but the address was true,” Lascañas narrated in his affidavit.

He continued: “Immediately, Mr. Ely Luy called upon his secretary to verify the said name in the address I mentioned to him. After his conversation with his secretary, Mr. Ely Luy told me that the person we’re looking for was not the occupant of the said Apartelle unit, for its present occupant was a Chinese businessman friend of DCLA owner Mr. Michael Yang. In fact, Mr. Ely Luy further averred to me that it was Mr. Sammy Uy of DIMDI [Davao Imports Distributor Inc.], who called him looking for a vacant Apartelle unit more than a year ago.”

Uy was the same businessman who would contribute P30 million to the presidential campaign of Duterte in 2016. It was Uy too, according to Lascañas and contrary to Duterte’s earlier pronouncements, who introduced Yang to Duterte.

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Girlfriend of informant also killed

After meeting with Luy, Lascañas began to harbor suspicions about then-mayor Duterte’s “deep-dark person in the world of illegal drugs trade.” 

“That his vision and everything was a great farce and lunatic show (sham). The only real [thing] was the untimely death of thousands of innocent human beings, including my two brothers, and probably myself in the coming days if I’m not careful and cautious enough of myself. One wrong step could be my lethal and fatal end,” Lascañas wrote.

Before the killings happened and during a drinking session with his DDS colleague Jim Tan and civilian asset Mamay Tapic, Lascañas recalled being asked about their next plans regarding the shabu laboratory in Green Heights. Lascañas told Tan they would need to talk personally to the source, the house helper. 

“Mamay Tapic informed Sonny Buenaventura of what he heard of my conversation with Jim Tan regarding the suspected mini-shalab [shabu lab] in Green Heights Subd. I’m sure it was without malice on Mamay’s part. Hence, Sonny Buenaventura called me up and Jim Tan for a lunch buffet-meeting in Marco Polo Hotel,” Lascañas narrated.

Buenaventura was apprised about the Green Heights mini-shabu lab, with no mention whatsoever of Lascañas’ prior meeting with Luy. He was also told the names of Jimmy Duran’s construction worker-friend and of the house helper, the original source of information.

“Then, Sonny said to us that he would brief Superman [Duterte] about our present project for Superman’s information, clearance and logistic support. And we thanked Sonny for his effort and support to our project,” Lascañas said in his affidavit.

Days after that meeting, Lascañas said Buenaventura gave them P50,000 cash money for their “operational expenses,” and he and ostensibly Tan gave him (Buenaventura) his commission amounting to P15,000 for “his effort and initiative.”

“After several days, Jimmy Duran informed me that the house helper was missing and cannot be contacted by [her] boyfriend – the construction worker, despite several efforts to contact her. My mind ran to different directions – to doubts, despair and fear. The reason I secretly carried a small fragmentation grenade inside my pocket wherever I go,” Lascañas wrote in his affidavit.

He was afraid his independent investigation and discovery about the links of the Green Heights mini-shabu lab to Michael Yang would be discovered.

Slaughter of ‘robbery’ suspects

Able to recall the time but not the date, Lascañas said in his affidavit, “It was past 7:00 pm when Sonny Buenaventura called thru cellphone and instructed me, as per order of Superman [Duterte], to proceed to Laud Quarry and coordinate with Ben Laud for an important operation.”

Upon arrival, Lascañas saw Sammy Uy, a businessman and known close friend of Duterte, talking to Bienvenido “Ben” Laud, a policeman who was also in charge of the Laud quarry mass graves, and a “Chinese-looking woman in her late 30s.” 

They were introduced to each other by Laud, who told Lascañas that the woman was a “victim of a robbery/hold-up of more or less P10 million of assorted jewelries (sic).” Referring to her only as “Madam X” because he could not recall her name, Lascañas said she owned a jewelry store and pawnshop in Victoria Plaza Mall. She also had a loan-shark business and was a casino financier.

Laud and his team rounded up the alleged robbery suspects inside the Green Heights Subdivision with the help of “Madam X,” the supposed victim. Lascañas recalled noticing a dirty white L-300 Mitsubishi van that was parked in a dark spot of the quarry. Laud led him to the vehicle and pulled open its sliding door.

“I saw several dead bodies inside, five or six dead male bodies. All were hogtied by the wires and packaging tapes and their faces were wrapped by packaging tape. A repugnant smell of human feces and urine, and a grizzly and gruesome scene of mass murder dominated my eyes and sense [of] smell,” Lascañas wrote in his affidavit.

The dead bodies were those of the construction workers.

When Lascañas reported to Buenaventura, the chief security and driver of Duterte, that the task was done but that Uy and his woman companion might have witnessed the killings, Buenaventura became angry and demanded an explanation. It was a violation of their rule.

“Our group has a strict rule to never bring in anybody who is not a member of our group inside Laud quarry during ‘Trabaho’ Time – meaning ‘Killing and burial’ of person or persons,” Lascañas explained in his affidavit. 

He passed on his cellphone to Laud to do the explaining. He overheard Laud say that it was “Madam X” who guided them to the location of the suspects and went with them all the way to the quarry. They witnessed the interrogation of the suspects and the mass killings. 

Laud told Lascañas that it was Duterte – “thru Bong Go” – who ordered him and cleared the killing operation.

When none of the workers admitted to having robbed “Madam X,” Uy “ordered Ben Laud to start the slaughter of the alleged suspects one by one allegedly to extract [a] confession.” But until the last one, “no one among them confessed,” Lascañas said in his affidavit. 

Meeting Duterte after the operation 

Minutes after their operation at the Laud quarry and the conversation between Laud and Buenaventura, Lascañas said Buenaventura called again and instructed him to accompany Sammy Uy and “Madam X” to the Marco Polo Hotel, where Duterte was waiting. 

“At the Marco Polo Hotel, I saw Mayor Duterte, Sonny Buenaventura and Bong Go. Mayor Duterte ordered me in front of Mr. Sammy Uy and Madam X to arrest the remaining robbery suspects of Madam X’s case and to neutralize them immediately once arrested,” Lascañas wrote in his affidavit.

He continued: “Mayor Duterte never mentioned to make extra effort on how to recover the alleged P10 million worth of jewelry allegedly forcibly taken from Madam X. His only and direct order was to Kill, Kill and Kill.”

Sought for comment, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque refused to dignify the “hearsay” that was Lascañas’ affidavit. He said Malacañang Palace would only “respond if there’s evidence that would corroborate self-serving affidavits.”

We contacted Sammy Uy through the email address where, his staff said, messages sent would be relayed to him by his children. We will update this story once he replies.

We reached out to Senator Bong Go for his comments. His media relations officer said our questions had been forwarded to him. We will update this report once he replies. 

Duterte and Yang’s friendship

During his interview with Rappler on September 23, Lascañas said that, to his knowledge, Yang had been in Davao possibly 1995 or 1996 – earlier than Duterte’s recollection that he arrived in 1999. 

While the President recently claimed Yang was introduced to him by a certain Randy Usman, Lascañas said Duterte had previously said Yang “was introduced to him during the police and military conference by Mr. Sammy Uy…and I attest to that. It was Mr. Sammy Uy who introduced Michael Yang to Mayor Duterte.” 

In his Talk to the People that aired on August 31, Duterte said as much, making reference to the command conference. 

“Well, I’ll tell you something, Michael Yang has been in business here in the Philippines for 20 years. Nag-umpisa ’yan dito sa Davao. Pumunta sa akin ’yan, I remember distinctly kasi break ’yun ng command conference. Seated beside me was the officers of the police department of Davao City, pati si Isidro Lapeña who is now the secretary of TESDA. Iyan, pumasok ’yan doon kasi si Sammy Uy, isang kaibigan ko.” 

(He started here in Davao. He came to me, I remember distinctly because it was during the break of the command conference…. He entered because of Sammy Uy, a friend of mine.)

In a response to Rappler’s questions, however, Yang said through his lawyer, “Mr. Sammy Uy is an acquaintance, but we are not close.” 

In the recent hearings of the Senate blue ribbon committee investigating irregularities in the government’s pandemic-related purchases, Yang’s name surfaced as guarantor and financier of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, the newly-formed and lowly-capitalized company that bagged multi-billion government contracts. 

While senators were hinting at Pharmally being a mere agent getting commissions for principals who could have made more money from government contracts, President Duterte tried to distance Yang from the firm, saying Yang merely laid the groundwork for Chinese businessmen.

During Duterte’s presidency, various companies linked to Yang – from real estate to online casino gaming – have been set up by his associates and grown exponentially, prompting suspicions of money laundering. On October 19, Senate  blue ribbon committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon disclosed that the panel’s partial findings included recommending possible charges against Yang and Pharmally executives. – Rappler.com

Contributors to “THE LASCAÑAS AFFIDAVIT | ‘I KILLED FOR DUTERTE’” series: Lian Buan, Jodesz Gavilan, Glenda M. Gloria, Chay F. Hofileña, Pia Ranada, Rambo Talabong 

Read and watch the stories in this series: