A retired policeman has admitted to murdering two of his own brothers “out of loyalty” to then Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Arthur Lascañas said he led the Davao Death Squad (DDS) that followed the orders of Mr Duterte and killed numerous people, including a pregnant woman and her four-year-old son.
The 56-year-old also said that Mr Duterte paid members of the DDS 300,000 pesos after the group fire bombed several mosques in 1993.
The claims echo statements by self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, who has been in hiding since he linked the president to the killings last year. (Read our report here.)
Senators are now calling for a new probe into the alleged killings, while presidential spokesman Martin Andanar has dismissed the claims as a plot to undermine the president.
Since his election, the president has apparently admitted killing people personally, saying he would cruise around on his motorbike “looking for trouble” and even that he once threw somebody from a helicopter. (Read more here and here.) However, since these apparent admissions, Mr Duterte has claimed he was “only joking”.
Speaking at a press conference, Mr Lascañas described how the DDS had originally been formed to go after small-time drug dealers and petty criminals but it later evolved into a force to eliminate Mr Duterte’s political opponents.
“We started the salvaging [euphemism for killing] of people when Mayor Duterte first sat down as mayor in Davao City,” he said. “The people we targeted are criminals and were into illegal drugs. We were implementing the personal orders of Duterte.”
Mr Lascañas said members of the squad were usually paid from $400 to $1,000 for the killings depending on the “status” of the target.
“All the killings that we committed in Davao City, whether they were buried or thrown in the sea, were paid for by Mayor Duterte,” he said.
Mr Lascañas said that he received an allowance directly from Mr Duterte’s office and that he led the group for a long time. He said earlier testimony made before the senate last year — when he denied any involvement with the DDS — was “all lies.”
Fighting back tears, he said that two of his own brothers — identified as Cecilio and Fernando — were among the group’s victims. He said he had concealed his involvement in their deaths from his family until his confession today.
“They were involved in illegal drugs,” he said. “Now my nephews know that I was instrumental to the murders. In my belief about the campaign, I had committed this.”
He also confirmed Mr Matobato’s earlier testimony linking Mr Duterte to the murder of Jun Pala, a radio commentator critical of the mayor and a supporter of a vigilante group set up to guard against Communist guerrillas. Mr Lascañas said he was paid about $60,000 to get rid of him.
“We planned and carried out the assassination of Jun Pala,” he said. After Mr Pala survived an ambush, Mr Lascañas said, he met with Mr Duterte, who told him to take his time in killing the broadcaster.
Mr Pala was shot by gunmen near his home in 2003, in a killing that police blamed on a Communist hit squad.
“This is the real truth in the Pala murder case,” Mr Lascañas said. “I am one of those who murdered him.”
Mr Lascañas also said that he and other members of the squad killed a kidnapping suspect, his pregnant wife, his father-in-law and two servants. He said the victims were seized and taken to a quarry, where they were gunned down.
He did not say how the bodies were disposed of, but last year Mr Matobato testified that victims were chopped up and then their parts taken out to sea where they were scattered.
Mr Lascañas is now under the protection of the Free Legal Assistance Group, an organisation of human rights activists and lawyers.
The group said that Mr Lascañas had drawn up a sworn affidavit and was prepared to testify before any government body, including the senate.
Mr Lascañas’s statements tally closely with Mr Matobato’s testimony last year. He described how he was one of the first civilians Mr Lascañas had recruited into the DDS. He said the squad answered to Mr Duterte and his longtime lieutenant, Ronald dela Rosa, now director general of the Philippine National Police.
Mr Andanar’s rebuttal came in the form of a statement that read: “Our people are aware that this character assassination is nothing but vicious politics orchestrated by sectors affected by the reforms initiated by the Duterte administration.
“Bringing change is not an easy task. The Duterte administration has disturbed, disrupted the establishment. However, we remain undistracted in delivering goods and services to serve the people, not just the interest of the few.”
Senator Antonio Trillanes said that Mr Andanar’s response was intended to divert attention away from “the issue of the president’s complicity” in multiple murders.
Senator Risa Hontiveros called Mr Lascañas’ allegations a “direct stab at the credibility” of the president that undermined his “moral capacity to lead”.
“They strengthen suspicions that the death squads responsible for thousands of unsolved extrajudicial killings are state-sanctioned,” Ms Hontiveros said. She has now called on the senate to investigate Mr Lascañas’ testimony.