#ThewRap: Things you need to know, February 20, 2017

Hello! Here are the top stories you shouldn't miss this Monday.

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Hello!

Dear Rappler reader:

Four months ago, Senior Police Officer 3 Arthur Lascañas appeared before a Senate committee hearing and flatly denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad. It's all "media hype," he said. He also denied the claims of self-confessed death squad hitman Edgar Matobato that he handed down orders for "hits" in Duterte's behalf. Matobato, he said, was simply out to destroy the President.

Today, Lascañas, who retired in December, tells a different story. Matobato was telling the truth he says. The death squad exists.

We continue to watch these developments as we bring you the most important stories of the day.

Ex-Davao policeman corroborates Matobato's claims regarding death squad

Four months after he denied his involvement in the Davao Death Squad, a veteran Davao policeman turned around and dropped a bombshell in a press conference held Monday, February 20. Retired SP03 Arthur Lascañas, known to be one of the policemen closest to then mayor Rodrigo Duterte, corroborated earlier claims by whistle-blower Edgar Matobato on the former mayor's involvement in the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS). He also talked about botched efforts to kill radio commentator Jun Pala before the latter was finally murdered.

Philippines scores higher than world average in economic freedom index

Continuing its trend of economic gains, the Philippines moved up 12 notches and scored higher than world average in the 2017 Index of Economic Freedom (IEF). The Philippines placed 58th in latest index from 70th place last year the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' Investor Relations Office (BSP-IRO) on Sunday, February 19. Conducted by Washington-based think tank Heritage Foundation, the IEF covers 186 countries and reveals a positive relationship between economic freedom and a variety of socioeconomic goals, including poverty elimination, greater per capita wealth, healthier societies, cleaner environments, and democracy.

Duterte generals list preconditions to resuming talks with communists

They are open to further talks. But top security officials of President Rodrigo Duterte stressed that the New People's Army (NPA) should first abide by certain preconditions. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr slammed 2 rebel demands: the release 400 political prisoners early in the peace process and their insistence for the military to stay away from areas claimed by the NPA. Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año, meanwhile, said the NPA should stop "extorting money" and stop "using IEDs that endanger" innocent civilians.

What happened in Sweden? - Swedes ask Trump

What has he been smoking? A former Swedish prime minister asked this question after US President Donald Trump referred to non-existent terror incident that supposedly happened in Sweden in a speech delivered before supporters on February 18. Following the miscue, netizens had a field day cracking jokes on Twitter using hashtags #lastnightinSweden and #SwedenIncident. But the Swedish embassy in Washington is not taking this lightly. It has asked the US State Department for an explanation. This is the second time the Trump administration has referred to a non-existent terror attack in a public statement. Earlier, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway referred to a mythical "Bowling Green massacre" during an interview.

Pence visits Nazi concentration camp

US Vice President Mike Pence is touring Europe to assure nervous allies of Washington's 'unwavering' support for NATO. Against the backdrop of concerns about a surge of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States since Donald Trump was elected president, Pence, accompanied by his wife and daughter, paid a somber visit to a former Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, Germany on Sunday, February 19. "Moving and emotional tour of Dachau today," he later tweeted through his official Twitter account. "We can never forget atrocities against Jews and others in the Holocaust."

SpaceX launches rocket from historic NASA launchpad

SpaceX on Sunday, February 19, blasted off its Falcon 9 rocket carrying the unmanned Dragon cargo ship, packed with food and supplies for the 6 astronauts living at the International Space Station. The mission was the first to take off in years from NASA's historic launchpad 39A, the origin of the pioneering US spaceflights that took astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the space shuttle missions that ran from 1981 to 2011. The retirement of the US space shuttle program in 2011 left the United States without any spacecraft for sending people into orbit.

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