MANILA, Philippines – The first counts, but the second, not so much.
The Senate committee that heard the claims of a former Davao City policeman he killed on the orders of then mayor and now President Rodrigo Duterte said the fabled Davao Death Squad (DDS) did not exist. There was no proof either of “a state-sponsored policy to commit killings to eradicate illegal drugs in the country.”
In a report released on Monday, May 22, the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs also noted that retired policeman Arturo Lascañas was a “credible witness” the first time he testified before the Senate.
During that October 2016 appearance, he denied the existence of the death squad and refuted allegations by another alleged hitman-turned-whistleblower.
The second testimony, the committee noted, “is flooded with loopholes and uncertainty on material facts. Apart from the lack of corroborating evidence, his testimony was easily negated and destroyed by established facts, legal presumptions, and resolutions of government agencies concerned.”
The committee also pointed out that Lascañas was unable to present any other proof of his claims, aside from his actual confession.
The report was signed by committee chairman Panfilo Lacson, vice chairperson Gregorio Honasan II, and members Joseph Victor Ejercito, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Senator Nancy Binay, as well as ex-officio member Vicente Sotto III.
Senators Grace Poe and Ralph Recto also signed the report, but with notes. Both said they agreed on the recommendations.
Only Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who had taken custody of Lascañas, said he did not concur and expressed plans to interpellate the report.
Senior Police Office 3 (SPO3) Lascañas was among the cops who testified before the Senate in October 2016, partly to refute claims made by Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman who claimed he was part of the DDS.
Lascañas retired in December 2016. Shortly after, he sought the protection of religious members and went into hiding. In his first press conference after retirement and in several media interviews, he said he changed tunes because he had a “spiritual renewal” and now wanted to tell the truth.
During Lascañas' second testimony, senators assailed him for flip-flopping on his claims, and argued this would be a basis to doubt his allegations. Lascañas initially denied knowing Matobato, but his 2017 testimony corroborated most of Matobato’s claims.
Still, the Senate committee said Lascañas’ retraction “does not necessarily vitiate his original testimony,” meaning the supposed “loopholes” in his first appearance did not take from the accuracy of his first sworn statements.
“His testimony solemnly given should not be lightly set aside and that before this can be done, both the previous testimony and the subsequent one be carefully compared, the circumstances under which each was given be carefully scrutinized, the reasons or motives for the change carefully scrutinized, in other words, all the expedients devised by man to determine the credibility of the witness should be utilized to determine which of the contradictory testimonies represent the truth,” the report said.
Quoting a Supreme Court decision, the committee pointed out that it’s the witness – and not his first statement – that stands to be “impeached” if a witness recants his earlier statement.
The committee recommended to increase the penalty for witnesses who commit perjury, noting that Lascañas’ testimony “only highlights the fact that there are individuals who have the audacity to spread falsity before the august body.”
It also recommended revisions in Senate rules, particularly when it comes to punishing witnesses who make false testimonies: “As it is current worded, the Section does not punish a witness who gives incompatible/inconsistent testimonies. This allows a witness to change his/her position, or recant his/her previous testimony without fear of penalty.” – Rappler.com