SEN­A­TORS END IN­QUIRY INTO DUTERTE’S ‘DEATH SQUAD’

They say there’s no proof it even ex­isted

New Straits Times - - World -

PHILIP­PINE sen­a­tors abruptly ended a hear­ing yes­ter­day into al­le­ga­tions by a re­tired po­lice­man that a “death squad” op­er­ated un­der Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte when he was mayor of Davao City, cit­ing no proof that it even ex­isted.

Ar­turo Las­canas ad­mit­ted to ly­ing in Oc­to­ber dur­ing an­other Se­nate in­quiry into al­leged ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings by a hit squad linked to Duterte, but said he did so for his fam­ily’s safety and be­cause po­lice had warned him to “deny ev­ery­thing”.

He said yes­ter­day he had per­son­ally killed 300 peo­ple, about 200 as a mem­ber of a “Davao death squad” of which Duterte had full knowl­edge.

But few fresh claims emerged in yes­ter­day’s pro­ceed­ings and the sen­a­tors, sev­eral of whom are Duterte loy­al­ists, chal­lenged his cred­i­bil­ity and de­manded proof.

“We don’t see any point of pur­su­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Sen­a­tor Pan­filo Lac­son, head of the Se­nate panel, said.

“There’s no in­de­pen­dent ev­i­dence other than what he had al­ready tes­ti­fied on.”

Las­canas broke down when he told his story to re­porters two weeks ago. He is the se­cond per­son to tes­tify be­fore lawmakers on Duterte’s al­leged links to a clan­des­tine hit squad.

The hear­ing was much an­tic­i­pated af­ter Las­canas had writ­ten in the fi­nal line of his sworn af­fi­davit that his al­le­ga­tions were just “the tip of a bloody ice­berg”.

But lit­tle more came dur­ing the in­quiry. Las­canas cited one time when Duterte had per­son­ally in­structed him to kill and said the death squad’s in­struc­tions were usu­ally re­layed by se­nior po­lice­men, or Duterte’s body­guard.

Las­canas said he shot dead nine of 11 ar­rested Chi­nese drug sus­pects on or­ders that came in­di­rectly from Duterte. He also al­leged Duterte’s son and cur­rent Davao vice­mayor, Paulo Duterte, had links to the drug trade.

The pres­i­dent’s al­lies say the tes­ti­mony is part of a broader plot to dis­credit him. His chief lawyer, Sal­vadore Panelo, said Duterte’s al­leged in­volve­ment in ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings was “a fab­ri­ca­tion”.

Las­canas had, in Oc­to­ber, de­nied the death squad ex­isted. Yes­ter­day, he said he was tor­mented by what he had done and wanted the truth to set him free. He said he spoke out be­cause of “the fear of God”.

“I wanted to clear my con­science.”

Duterte de­nies or­der­ing sum­mary ex­e­cu­tions, ei­ther as pres­i­dent or dur­ing his 22 years as Davao mayor.

His top po­lice com­man­der, Ron­ald Dela Rosa, a for­mer Davao po­lice chief, calls the death squad “fic­tion” cre­ated by the me­dia.

Hu­man rights groups doc­u­mented about 1,400 sus­pi­cious killings in Davao while Duterte was mayor.

Crit­ics say the war on drugs he un­leashed as pres­i­dent has the same hall­marks.

Ar­turo Las­canas

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