Before taking the country’s top post, then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was already accused of being involved in extrajudicial killings in Davao City. According to these allegations, Duterte ordered the death of individuals whom he believed were involved in drug related crimes.
Former Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila De Lima investigated the allegations that Duterte was at the top of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), which was behind the killings. When elected to the Senate, De Lima was named the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She made use of her power to continue placing the president under investigation.
Although the main subject of the investigation was the current war on drugs promoted by the President, his involvement in the DDS was once again revived. In fact, De Lima presented Edgar Matobato as a witness to testify against Duterte. He claimed to have been among the men ordered by the former mayor to carry out the executions.
Matobato earned the admiration of the President’s critics for standing up and telling his side of the story. He was crucified by the supporters of the President, especially for his inconsistent testimonies and inability to answer questions appropriately.
Aside from Matobato, retired cop Arthur Lascanas also went to the Senate to testify. Instead of corroborating the statements of Matobato, he denied those claims and defended the President. He has even earned the ire of Sen. Sonny Trillanes who relentlessly questioned his testimony.
Singing a different tune
In what seems to be a dramatic plot twist, Lascanas recanted his previous statements in the Senate and instead decided to point Duterte as the mastermind behind the DDS. If he was the subject of Sen. Trillanes’ anger his Senate testimony, it was the senator who organized the press conference to allow Lascanas to make public his story.
Sen. Dick Gordon did not take lightly Trillanes’ decision to allow Lascanas to use the Senate as a platform to speak about his new revelations via press conference. According to Gordon, it was a slap in the face of the Senate to allow someone who has reversed his previous testimony under oath to still use the Senate.
Despite the issues raised by the senators allied with the President, a new inquiry will be launched to hear Lascanas’ testimony. It will be picked up by the Senate committee of public order chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson. He clarified that this is a new investigation and not a reopening of the previous inquiry done by the Senate under the Committee of justice and human rights involving extrajudicial killings.
Ten senators voted in favor of the hearing while 7 voted against it and 5 of them abstained. The senators who voted in favor of the hearing were Senators Pangilinan, Escudero, Recto, Drilon, Hontiveros, De Lima, Bam Aquino, Villanueva, Angara and Trillanes. Senators Cayetano and Poe were not able to cast their votes.
With the recent revelations, Malacanang immediately responded by denying the claims of Lascanas. According to chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, the Senate should not waste their time doing the investigation, as the President could not have ordered the deaths of many people. According to him, Duterte is a lawyer and killing is against human nature. He found no logic to this kind of order. He also said that Lascanas is not a credible witness considering that he has already released a statement previously where he denied the existence of DDS.
Even during the elections, the death squad has already become a hot issue, which Duterte’s opponents used to campaign against him. He has also repeatedly denied those accusations, and pointed to the media being behind the said “fiction”.
In his new revelations, Lascanas said that he has personally implemented the orders of then Mayor Duterte. He was Duterte’s second man in line when he ordered certain individuals to be killed. He came out against Duterte this time and promised that his obedience and loyalty to the President has to end. He also said that he has promised God that he would confess everything that he knows about the death squad and straighten up his previous testimony.
A demolition job
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar released a statement regarding the recent revelations of SPO3 Lascanas. He said that it is just a plot to topple down the administration. He reiterated the fact that bringing change is not an easy task. He also stated that despite the recent allegations, the administration would remain focused in delivering its promises to the people.
Andanar further stated that the Commission on Human Rights, Office of the Ombudsman and the Senate Justice Committee have all cleared the President in line with the accusations about his involvement in the DDS.
A powerful statement
Despite the denial of Malacanang, it is worth noting that Lascanas’ recent statement was in line with what Matobato previously presented in the Senate during the inquiry. He said that Lascanas was Duterte’s right hand. He also mentioned that Lascanas acted like a general who can order a colonel to do what he wants within Davao City. He also tagged Lascanas as the “most powerful police in the city.”
We will just see in the following days how Lascanas will face the Senate during the inquiry and if he will succeed in pining the president down.