As they say, your past will always come back to haunt you.
I had always thought all those stories about the “Davao Death Squad” had some basis in truth, for they wouldn’t have emerged and persisted all these years if there hadn’t been at the very least a smidgen of fact (and not alternative facts) as a basis.
And if, as he’s protested time and again, President Duterte really had nothing to do with this policy of instant assassinations and executions, shouldn’t he have been more than eager for the chance to prove his innocence?
Instead, between “teasing” the public imagination during the campaign and even afterward with confessions of complicity and vigorously denying any knowledge of these sanctioned killings, the President has gone hammer and tongs against anyone who dares link him to the DDS.
Sen. Leila de Lima is “Exhibit A.” The senator now faces imminent arrest allegedly for colluding with convicted drug lords in Muntinlupa in exchange for millions in campaign contributions. But Mr. Duterte has let slip more than once that his animosity toward the senator stems from her audacity, when she was still head of the Commission on Human Rights, to start an investigation into the DDS and the personalities behind it. At that time, Mr. Duterte was mayor of Davao City. De Lima has since said that though she had several witnesses who attested to the creation of the DDS and their involvement in several unsolved killings, there was not enough evidence to pursue a formal investigation or prosecution.
Now comes retired policeman Arturo Lascañas corroborating the statement of another witness, Edgar Matobato, that indeed the Davao Death Squad is real, and that the President was involved in its founding and activities.
Lascañas, acknowledged as one of the Davao policemen especially close to then Mayor Duterte, spoke at a press conference organized by Sen. Antonio Trillanes and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).
FLAG is a venerable name and organization among the human rights community. It was organized in 1974, at the height of the Marcos dictatorship by prominent lawyers and politicians led by Sen. Jose Diokno, Sen. Lorenzo Tañada and Joker Arroyo. In those dark years, FLAG worked with other human rights lawyers’ groups—such as Mabini led by former senator Rene Saguisag—to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties, starting with prominent political prisoners, including Ninoy Aquino. Its presence, especially those of its present-day leaders, La Salle Law Dean Jose Manuel Diokno (son of the late senator), Arno Sanidad and Alexander Padilla, lent a note of credibility to the event. Otherwise, the appearance of Lascañas would have been dismissed outright as a political gimmick by constant Duterte critic Trillanes.
Among the more explosive revelations of the retired policeman, who in a previous Senate hearing had denied outright the existence and activities of the DDS, was that squad members were paid with amounts ranging from P20,000 to P50,000 and even as much as P100,000 for every “kill.”
Lascañas also blamed Mr. Duterte for ordering the assassination of Jun Pala, a radio commentator highly critical of Mr. Duterte, and linked him as well to the murder of religious leader Jun Barsabal.
Of course, the usual denials have been issued by Malacañang, with the embellishment of communications secretary Martin Andanar that reporters who covered the press conference were allegedly paid a thousand dollars each (dollars, take note). This led to good-natured ribbing among media folk that all those who showed up to listen to Lascañas should treat their colleagues to a good meal.
That makes for two witnesses with similar and consistent stories, not just about the DDS but also about Mr. Duterte’s direct hand in choosing the squad’s targets and the conduct of the assassinations.
If you will recall, the Senate committee dismissed Matobato’s previous claims, after Sen. Richard Gordon replaced De Lima as chair (on the instigation of Sen. Manny Pacquiao). There has been no formal hearing set for Lascañas’ claims, and it seems doubtful Mr. Duterte’s allies in the Senate would be willing to reopen the whole can of worms. Except that, now that one—or two—worms have emerged, it would be nearly impossible to reseal this odious container.
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