HE HAD repeatedly denied the existence of the so-called Davao Death Squad or DDS at a Senate hearing just four months ago. Yet last week, retired Senior Police Officer 3 Arturo Bariquit Lascañas suddenly made a turnaround, saying not only that he had been one of the “pasimuno” or major players in the DDS, but also that then Davao City Mayor and now President Rodrigo Roa Duterte had ordered the killings done by the group.
His lawyers said Lascañas had been moved to make the confession because he had been suffering from nightmares about the massacre of a family in Davao that included a woman who was then seven months pregnant and a young boy. In the press conference last week, lawyer Arno Sanidad also said that it had been “maybe a month or two months back” that Lascañas decided to come clean in public about the DDS and his role in it.
But Lascañas may have had laid plans for a tell-all far earlier, having started writing a journal sometime in 2015.
That journal – written by hand on yellow paper – has now reached some 70 pages. In it, Lascañas has apparently scribbled notes about his own career, Duterte’s rise to power, and the supposed bloody exploits of the DDS.
Among the few pages he shared with PCIJ is one describing what would later lead to the DDS. Lascañas wrote that after Duterte won “by a slim margin of votes” over then Davao City Mayor Zafiro Respicio in 1988, “the Anti-Crime Task Force was organized by the Mayor (RRD). The Task Force was led by then Major Ernesto Macasaet, a very close friend of Mayor Rody Duterte.”
“The Anti-Crime Campaign of Mayor Duterte was so serious and remarkable in its inception, crime rate of Davao City were (sic) observed in its low level since Mayor Rody became mayor,” wrote Lascañas. “He hit hard the organized crime group in the city, w/ the full cooperation of the police force, then the Davao Metropolitan District Command.”
Later pages, however, have this prediction: “Mayor RRD’s entry into the Presidential Derby 2016 could be a Divine Trap. It would lead him to his political waterloo. Win or lose, sooner or later, he would become the most hated political figure in Philippine history.”
According to Lascañas, Duterte is a “physically, morally, and spiritually disturbed person. He is for flesh, blood, and power no matter what.”
“What he wants, he gets,” Lascañas wrote in his journal. “What matters (to) him most is his personal and political security.”
He continued, “If ever he will win the presidency and apply in the whole country his Davao formula of bloodletting on the premise of peace and order and illegal drugs, eventually he will lead this country (to) hell, and deceptively perpetuate himself to lifetime in power.”
“And the rest, ” Lascañas said, would be “lethal history, evil prevail(s).”
Duterte had six full terms as Davao City mayor between 1992 and 2016, during which extrajudicial killings there became rife. (He was a congressman from 1998 to 2001 and was vice mayor from 2010 to 2013, while his daughter Sara was Davao City’s chief executive.) Lascañas had worked with the Davao City police for 34 years during that period, too. From 1992 to 2001 alone, the Davao media attributed at least 150 deaths in the city to the DDS and then Mayor Duterte’s war against drugs. In September last year, self-confessed DDS hitman Edgar Matobato told the Senate that the DDS, allegedly under Duterte’s orders, killed some 1,000 people from 1993 to 2013.
During his testimony at the Senate, Matobato had also pointed to Lascañas as the head of the DDS. He said Lascañas was “talaga ang parang sa tingin ko, parang kapatid, parang kuwan na sila, close na close na sila ni Mayor Duterte (in my view, like a brother, he and Mayor Duterte were really close).”
According to Matobato, Duterte once even told Lascañas, supposedly after yet another ‘hit’: “’Tur, kung wala ka, hindi malilinis ang Davao (‘Tur, without you, Davao would not get cleaned up).”
A few weeks later, however, Lascañas would label almost everything that Matobato said at the Senate as “lies.” And as proof that he was not as influential as Matobato had said, Lascañas told the Senate that he had been unable to do anything – “wala akong nagawa” – when two of his brothers who had been involved in drugs were killed in separate incidents by “elements of the Davao City police.”
Lascañas also said that when his daughter, then a new nursing school graduate, tried to apply for a job at City Hall, she was not only rejected, but was insulted as well. And this was, he said, when he had been struck by “severe illness” and was on dialysis.
A journal of guilt?
This was in 2015, which was also the year when Lascañas apparently took up pen and paper and began writing what he would later describe as a journal of his guilt.
“I faithfully believe that I am at peace with my Divine Creator if my conscience is clean and clear,” Lascañas said in one of the journal’s pages shown to PCIJ. “My clean and clear conscience is my direct guide to make righteous decisions to repent of all my mortal sins that will lead me to submit to the will of GOD.”
“If to follow GOD’s will will lead me to prosecution, incarceration, loss of human dignity, and painful death, so be it,” he also wrote. “THY WILL BE DONE.”
Lascañas recently sought religious guidance after making up his mind to come forward. Last Feb. 20, he contacted Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, with whom he had a heated exchange when he testified at the Senate in October last year and denied almost everything that Matobato had said.
Under close guard
At that hearing, though, Lascañas had admitted that that Philippine National Police Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa had put him under close guard by a team of policemen. The team, which included SPO4 Sanson “Sonny” Buenaventura (said to be yet another of Duterte’s trusted aides), escorted Lascañas from Davao to Manila and back. De la Rosa himself was present when Lascañas testified at the Senate in October 2016.
“He was under duress and could not move and talk freely,” says someone privy to what was happening to Lascañas at the time. “He was also afraid that he and his family would be harmed by the policemen he would implicate and most of all, the president. He was worried about the personal safety and security of his family members who were still in Davao.”
Moreover, Lascañas had earlier reportedly received more than enough signals to stay mum. According to the source, “a senior PNP official met with Lascañas before his testimony at the Senate to gauge whether or not he would say anything negative.” In fact, says the source, “Police Supt. Antonio Rivera’s instruction was that it would be better for him not to testify at all.”
Rivera was the spokesperson of the Southern Mindanao police command, and now the incumbent Davao City Deputy Director for Administration.
A last but apparently most important reason for Lascañas’s testimony of denials in October 2016 was his official retirement from the police service on December 16, 2016. Says the source close to Lascañas: “He was retiring in two months. He was careful not to court the ire of the higher-ups. It would have been a pity if he were to be denied his benefits after 34 years of service.”
Lascañas had been on “non-duty status” or inactive service since March 2016, because of his kidney ailment. But at Christmas time last year, after 34 years and seven months in service, Lascañas received a cash payout equivalent to a third of his retirement benefits, or over a million pesos, according to PNP insiders.
A former official with the same rank and tenure as Lascañas said his total benefits should have amounted to P3.1 million, with a monthly pension of about P35,000 on the side. The PNP allows its retirees to get a full year’s advance on their pension benefits.
He would have gotten more if his application for promotion to SPO4 had been acted upon. Lascañas even told the Senate that he had followed it up — to no avail.
By contrast, one of the police officers he implicated last week in the murder of a religious group leader, Gaudencio ‘Jun’ Bersabal, now holds one of the highest positions in the PNP: Police Senior Supt. Rommil Mitra, who was also one of the 22 policemen ordered suspended for six months by the Ombudsman for failure to solve cases of summary killings in Davao City. The police chief of Sigabay at the time of Bersabal’s killing, Mitra is now the chief of the Directorial Staff of the PNP Region Office 3 (Central Luzon). — With research and reporting by Nancy C. Carvajal and Davinci Maru, PCIJ, February 2017