MANILA, Philippines – On Monday, February 20, retired senior police officer 3 (SPO3) Arturo “Arthur” Lascañas did a 180-degree turn and retracted all his previous denials over his involvement with the Davao Death Squad (DDS).
The veteran Davao policeman’s latest confession was very different from his October 2016 testimony before the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights where he vehemently denied allegations of close ties with President Rodrigo Duterte and the existence of the DDS.
Lascañas, in a press conference organized by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), confirmed that he was behind some killings caried out by the known vigilante group upon the orders of then Davao City mayor Duterte.
The details of the incidents he enumerated corroborated information relayed by another self-confessed former DDS member, Edgar Matobato.
Matobato surfaced before a Senate hearing and tagged Duterte and his son, Davao Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte as responsible for the killings attributed to the death squad. (TIMELINE: Witness lists killings allegedly ‘ordered by Duterte’)
After almost 4 months, it is now Lascañas shedding light on incidents in Davao City. Rappler lists incidents and deaths that he was involved in as part of the DDS:
1. The death of broadcaster Jun Pala in 1993
Lascañas claimed that then Davao mayor Duterte, through his driver and bodyguard Sonny Buenaventura, went looking for a hitman to end the life of radio broadcaster Juan “Jun” Pala.
Pala was the individual who Duterte called, during a press conference in May 2016, as someone who deserved to be assassinated. He was killed by unidentified gunmen on board a motorcycle in 2003. (READ: Duterte’s ‘enemy’: Jun Pala)
According to Lascañas, he accepted the contract worth P3 million ($59,719)*. He used P500,000 ($9,949) for operational funds.
After two unsuccessful ambush attempts, Lascañas narrated that the group got hold of Pala’s part-time bodyguard Jerry Trocio who eventually tipped them “about the right time to do the ambush.”
2. The death of ‘land grabber’ and religious leader Jun Barsabal
Jun Barsabal was a leader of a religious group called the Remnant Family of God who was also involved in grabbing and squatting on lands in Davao. (READ: Ex-Davao cop: ‘Sabi ni mayor Rody, patayin niyo na ‘yan’)
His illegal activities was what got him killed, according to Lascañas.
He added that they had an arrest warrant for the religious leader. They were able to capture Barsabal in Kaputian, Samal in 1993 and he was brought to Duterte who eventually ordered his death.
To cover their paths, Lascañas said he told a certain Inspector Rommel Mitra of the Sigaboy, Davao Oriental police of Duterte’s orders and had him sign a logbook which stated that they turned Barsabas alive to his police unit.
Mitra eventually filed a report saying Barsabal had escaped, according to Lascañas.
“Kasi pag-uwi namin itatapon namin katawan ni Jun Barsabal,” Lascañas said. “Nakita siya sa Compostela Valley patay na.”
(On our way home we threw out Barsabal’s dead body. He was found dead in Compostela Valley.)
The logbook Mitra signed, Lascañas said, cleared them of charges when they were summoned by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Davao City.
However, one policeman was slapped with a case but was only eventually suspended since Duterte, according to Lascañas, assured protection.
3. Deaths of his brothers involved in drug-related activities
Lascañas also confessed to be behind the deaths of his own brothers Cecilio and Fernando who were involved in illegal drugs – deaths that he previously used, during the October 2016 Senate hearing, to prove that he did not have close ties with Duterte.
However, speaking to the media, the veteran policeman blamed his “blind loyalty to Duterte” that led him to plot the murder of his own brothers.
“Sa sobra kong loyalty sa kaniya, ginawa ko po ito, sarili kong dalawang kapatid, pinapatay ko. Panawagan ko po sa mga kapulisan, hindi po solusyon ang pagpatay. Mamatay man ako o ipapatay ako kuntento na ako na nagawa ko ang pangako ko sa Diyos na magsagawa ng public confession,” Lascañas said.
(Out of loyalty, I did it, I had my own two brothers killed. My appeal to the police force is, killing is not a solution. Even if I die or get killed, I’m content that I was able to do my promise to God to make this public confession.)
He added that none of his relatives, especially his brothers’ children, knew of his involvement.
4. Massacre of one suspected kidnapper’s family
Contract killings carried out by the death squad were only not limited to those involved in illegal activities – it often also covered their families.
Lascañas narrated that Duterte ordered the death of a suspected kidnapper and his family, including his pregnant wife, their 4-year-old child, his father-in-law, and 2 house help.
Named in the affidavit as the Pasataja family, they were brought to a quarry where the group consulted Duterte what to do with the family.
“Nagbigay ng go signal si Mayor Duterte,'” Lascañas recalled Duterte saying in Bisaya. “Ang sabi niya ay sige, malinis lang.”
(Mayor Duterte gave us the go signal to proceed. He said, ‘Go ahead and just make sure it’s clean.)
Lascañas protested and questioned why the need to kill the whole family as they only had one target. His group did not budge so he decided to recommend if he can just spare the child.
“Hiningi ko na lang ang bata na lalaki na dalhin ko ito sa Butuan City at doon iwanan sa isang bus terminal,” he recalled. “Pero sa isa grupo namin ang nag-comment na paglaki ng batang iyan, makikilala pa rin niya ang mukha namin at kami hindi na namin siya makikilala. Baka ito ang gagawa ng pangganti dahil inubos natin ang buong pamilya niya.
(I asked for the child and said I will just bring him to Butuan City and leave him in one bus terminal. However, one in our group commented that when the child grows up, he will still remember our face while we cannot identify him anymore. He might take revenge against us because we killed his entire family.)
The family was eventually killed using a caliber 22 gun with a silencer.
“Evil prevailed,” Lascañas said.
5. Mosque bombings
Aside from planning and carrying out kill contracts, Lascañas also said that he was part of the group that bombed a mosque in 1993. He previously denied his involvement.
The death squad was divided into 3 groups, with his group assigned to a mosque along the diversion road in Davao City.
According to several news reports, the San Pedro Cathedral bombing occurred during a December Mass in 1993 and it left at least 6 dead and injured at least 130. The “retaliation” happened 8 hours after the cathedral bombing. – With reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com
*$1 = P50
This story will be updated once SPO3 Arturo “Arthur” Lascañas provides more details.