By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
Although the alleged wanton killings took place in Davao City when President Duterte was still its mayor, the President may be impeached on the basis of the confessions on the existence of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) by a veteran Davao policeman who said he was bothered by conscience and retracted his earlier denial of the same.
Lawyers with the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), a state-funded organization that works pro bono, said the confession of retired senior police officer Arthur Lascanas on the alleged involvement of President Duterte in the purported killing activities of the vigilante group DDS when he was still Davao mayor is a valid ground for filing an impeachment case against the chief executive.
FLAG’s Arno Sanidad said: “We would like to believe that when a person runs for President, he presents himself as an honorable man, free of any serious crimes, or legal liabilities, and therefore if the Constitution mandates that the President should come out and present himself, as a proper candidate and leader of the people, he should be free of any crime, and therefore I believe this is a possible ground for an impeachment.”
“The Davao Death Squad exists,” Lascañas claimed at a press conference on February 20 at the Senate office of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, with FLAG lawyers flanking the policeman said to be a former henchman of Duterte when he was mayor.
Lascañas recounted: “The first time Mayor Duterte sat as mayor of Davao City, we started what we call salvaging of people, criminal and drug suspects in Davao. We implemented the personal orders of Duterte… in all the killings we do in Davao City—whether burying them or throwing them at sea—we’re being paid by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.”
In the previous Senate hearings on extra-judicial killings, Lascañas was named by first self-confessed DDS hitman Edgar Matobato as among the Davao City policemen involved in the group. Lascañas at the time denied the existence of the vigilante group and said it was all “media hype.”
In his “public confession,” Lascañas said he carried out the “salvaging” out of “blind obedience and loyalty” to Duterte. Death squad members were allegedly paid from PHP 20,000 to PHP 100,000 “depending on the status of the target.”
He claimed he also received an allowance from Duterte’s office amounting to PHP 100,000. It was not clear if this was a regular monthly payment.
Lascañas has just retired from the Philippine National Police with the rank of special police officer 4.
As far as he could recall, Lascanas said it all started when Duterte grew tired of incessant criticisms from broadcaster Jun Pala when he was mayor of Davao City, so Duterte took out a PHP 3 million contract to kill the broadcaster journalist, and then gave a PHP 1 million bonus when the deed was done. “Consider the Jun Pala murder case solved. I was one of those who killed Jun Pala,” Lascañas said.
From that time on, Lascanas said the DDS became responsible for the summary executions of about 1,000 crime suspects on Duterte’s orders.
Duterte in previous interviews denied having Pala killed but said the broadcaster deserved his fate, adding that some journalists invite assassination for their corrupt ways. That statement drew condemnation from media groups at the start of Duterte’s presidency.
Allegedly on Duterte’s order, Lascañas’ death squad also executed the suspected mastermind in the kidnapping of a certain Mrs. Abaca, who was freed after ransom was paid. He said aside from the kidnapping suspect named Mr. Patasaja, they also killed the suspect’s wife who was seven months pregnant, his 5-year-old son, 70-year-old father-in-law and two helpers “to leave no witness.”
Sanidad said if anybody from the House of the Representatives would file an impeachment case against Duterte, FLAG lawyers are willing to assist in documentation. He said Lascañas had not yet discussed with FLAG lawyers what he wanted to happen with his testimony and that initially, the retired police officer just wanted to confess what he knew.
Malacanang dismissed Lascanas confession as part of “the (character assassination) against President Duterte.”