International Criminal Court

DDS insider links Rodrigo Duterte, Michael Yang to drug trade

Rappler Investigative Team
DDS insider links Rodrigo Duterte, Michael Yang to drug trade

Dicky Cheung

Graphics by Emil Mercado/Rappler

This is the first time Arturo Lascañas is accusing President Duterte and businessman friends of links to the drug trade. His earlier affidavit only covered the existence of the Davao Death Squad and some of the killings they carried out.

A former Davao Death Squad (DDS) insider has accused President Rodrigo Duterte and his businessman friends of being “involved in the illegal drug trade in Davao City,” in an affidavit submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2020.

Arturo Lascañas cited his “personal knowledge and experience” inside the death squad that the President, as Davao City mayor, was “in partnership with Michael Yang and Sammy Uy” in the drug trade. 

The Chinese Yang was officially presidential economic adviser in 2018, and remains influential in the Duterte government, while Uy contributed P30 million to Duterte’s presidential campaign in 2016. 

Lascañas was a local police intelligence operative and investigator for more than 34 years and a member of the DDS for more than two decades. 

This is the first time he is accusing Duterte and businessman friends Yang and Uy of links to the drug trade. His earlier affidavit, executed in February 2017, only covered the existence of the DDS, some killings they carried out, and the role that Duterte played in the operations of the hit squad.

“Based on my personal knowledge, Charlie Tan and Michael Yang are also friends,” according to Lascañas. 

Tan had been previously tagged by Senator Panfilo Lacson as part of the“Davao Group” that wielded influence in the Bureau of Customs. Lascañas claimed the businessman was “in partnership” with presidential son and Davao City congressman Paolo “Polong” Duterte in alleged smuggling activities. This is a charge that the younger Duterte had previously denied, although he acknowledged that Tan was his drinking buddy.

Recurring allegations

The new allegations come as Duterte winds up his presidency, which has been marked by a constantly moving target of suppressing crime, drugs, and corruption in “three to six months” and by a declaration that he would “raise the level of the drug threat into a national security issue.” 

As of August 2020, the police pegged at close to 8,000 the number of deaths in anti-drug operations. Human rights groups estimated over 27,000 deaths, to include vigilante-style killings.

Asked for comment on the allegations in Lascañas’ new affidavit, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, on November 3, told Rappler he “can’t respond to heresay (sic) evidence. [What’s] the value of affidavits not subject to cross-examination even for journalists?”

He added, “We will respond if there’s evidence that would corroborate self-serving affidavits.”

Malacañang had dismissed as black propaganda earlier attempts to link the presidential son to illegal activities. The President himself was quoted as saying in an ABS-CBN report in April 2019: “Well, that is a propaganda that has been repeated all the time. Alam mo – alam ko propaganda na ’yan. I was told. Eh pabalik-balik na ’yang (You know – I know that’s propaganda. I was told. It’s recurring)…I assure you, we are not into it.” 

In September 2017, then-senator Antonio Trillanes IV accused the younger Duterte of being a member of a Chinese triad, saying a supposed tattoo on Polong’s back was “physical evidence of his membership in the triad.”

Invoking his right to privacy, Polong refused to reply to further questions about it, and denied under oath “any and all baseless allegations thrown against me.”

Duterte’s ‘enablers’

Lascañas said in his affidavit that Rodrigo Duterte had police enablers in the persons of “Bato Dela Rosa and Wilkins Villanueva in the illegal drug trade,” and several other trusted aides and associates in the killings carried out by the DDS. 

Ronald dela Rosa 

Dela Rosa, elected senator in 2019, was Davao City’s police chief from 2012 to 2013. As Duterte’s first Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, he was the architect of Oplan Tokhang, a brutal campaign that saw policemen nab and kill suspected drug users and pushers who supposedly resisted arrest and fought back (nanlaban)

He was also cited in the ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s request for authorization from the pre-trial chamber to conduct an investigation into crimes related to Duterte’s “war on drugs” and killings when the President was still mayor and vice mayor of Davao City.

Wilkins Villanueva

Villanueva, a retired police general, was appointed by Duterte as director general of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in May 2020, coming from the agency’s Northern Mindanao office. 

When he appeared before a House hearing on September 15, Villanueva cleared Yang of any involvement in drugs. He said that if Yang were involved in illegal drugs, he would have been long dead.

Rappler sought the comment of Villanueva through his spokesman Derrick Carreon. In a text message to Rappler on October 27, Carreon said Villanueva refused to comment. Rappler also texted Villanueva and called, but he did not answer repeated requests for comment.

Sammy Uy

According to Lascañas, Uy is Yang’s “patron-friend in Davao City.” He obtained this information from Yang’s alleged customs broker, Randy Usman – Lascañas’ own friend, and as described in his own affidavit, his “associate in smuggling activities in the port of Davao in year 2012.” Usman served as Duterte’s “deputy mayor” for the Maranao tribe in Davao City, Lascañas also said. 

Davao residents who had heard about Uy told Rappler that, besides his legitimate businesses, Uy was also known to facilitate business interests. If “tacit approval” of their businesses was needed from the Dutertes, Uy was among those whom businessmen could approach.  

In his affidavit, Lascañas alleged that President Duterte, Uy, and Yang are “friends and close to each other.” But Rappler was also told by local residents interviewed separately that the interactions between Uy and Yang were more “transactional” – or based only on mutual benefit.

Yang disputed Lascañas’ claim. Raymond Fortun, Yang’s lawyer, quoted his client as saying, “Mr. Sammy Uy is an acquaintance but we are not close.”

We attempted to contact Uy through his office, and were given an email address where, staff said, messages sent to him would be relayed by his children or wife. We will update this report once we receive a response from him. 

The late Aldong Parojinog

The DDS whistleblower did not spare deceased former Ozamiz City Mayor Aldong Parojinog, whom he said entered into an “unholy alliance” with Duterte. “Both men had common evil deeds in life: both kill people; and both possesed (sic) guns, goons, and gold. Interestingly, both men were friends and protectors of Michael Yang, the drug lord. Both were mobsters disguised as public servants.”

Parojinog, Lascañas said, was introduced to then-mayor Duterte by then-police major Ernesto Macasaet during a dinner in a Chinese restaurant in the area of Victoria Plaza Mall in Davao City. 

In a separate account by Earl Parreño in his unauthorized Duterte biography, Beyond Will & Power, a plot to assassinate Duterte was uncovered in January 1995. A notorious crime syndicate known as Kuratong Baleleng – based in Ozamiz City and controlled by the Parojinog family – was supposed to carry out the assassination plot financed by rich businessmen engaged in illegal activities. 

But in Lascañas’ affidavit, he said that sometime between 1992 and 1995, it was Parojinog – through his own trusted man – who alerted Duterte about the presence of an alleged “hitman” in Davao City hired by a logging businessman. The suspect and the female sex worker who was with him were taken by the DDS, brought to the alleged mass grave that was the Laud quarry, choked to death, and their heads chopped off, Lascañas narrated.

Years later, when Duterte was already president in 2017, the Parojinog residence in Ozamiz City would be raided by the police, resulting in the deaths of 15 after a reported gunfight. The Parojinogs were part of Duterte’s list of local government officials allegedly involved in the drug trade – a charge they have denied.  

Sonny Buenaventura and Bong Go

The sole basis for killing targets was the intelligence information and orders given to them directly or through Duterte’s “evil lieutenants, Sonny Buenaventura and Bong Go.” Lascañas wrote in his affidavit that “none of the DDS members attempted or even dared to validate these intel reports and we just killed them simply because we believed in and blindly follow (sic) Mayor RRD (Rodrigo Roa Duterte).” 

Buenaventura was Duterte’s bodyguard and driver, while Go was his former aide who is now a senator. Buenaventura, according to Parreño’s book, was a cop suspended from service for shooting someone, but taken in as the driver of the vice mayor Duterte at the time, upon the recommendation of another long-time security aide. 

He would figure first as chief security of Duterte, become de facto leader of the hit squad, before becoming “logistic-financier” and “death clearance officer” of the DDS, according to Lascañas. Davao-based sources also said he acted like a “gatekeeper” to people who sought access to Duterte. 

We have attempted to get in touch with Buenaventura and Go but have not received a response. We will update this story once we receive their replies.

Why Lascañas came out

According to Lascañas, Duterte used the DDS network as his (Duterte’s) “personal killing machine. He took advantage of our blind loyalty to him and our greed for money to promote and protect his personal and political interests.” 

He has been bothered by his conscience over the merciless massacre of a family that included a pregnant mother and her four- or five-year-old son, who just happened to be with their target, Lascañas said. A child looking at him and seemingly asking for help constantly haunted him.

Lascañas, who studied law for four years, apologized for participating in the heinous crimes and for being “blind, sinful, hurtful and greedy.” 

He also said he knows that his apology and revelations would not be enough to “ease the pain of the families of the victims we have killed. It is also not enough to redeem my lost soul, but this is the least I could do to try to make up for the monstrosity that I have done. More importantly, I am hoping that this would be an important step in finally stopping the evil, terror, death and destruction that Rodrigo Roa Duterte had imposed on our country and people.”

The former DDS insider said his affidavit attests to the “true existence of the State-Sponsored extrajudicial killings and terrorism thru the ‘Davao Death Squad’ and ‘Tokhang’ now operating nationwide.”

In its September 2021 decision authorizing a probe, the ICC chamber said it was also apparent that, on the basis of the supporting material submitted by the office of the prosecutor, attacks took place “pursuant to or in the furtherance of a State policy.” – 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: