Senate ends Lascañas probe after 1 hearing

MANILA, Philippines – It was the first and last hearing on the testimony of retired SPO3 Arturo "Arthur" Lascañas against President Rodrigo Duterte, as the Senate ended its probe on Monday, March 6.

Senate public order committee chair Panfilo Lacson said Lascañas’ “recanted statements" have no probative value, citing Supreme Court rulings. (READ: Lacson to Lascañas: Confession not enough proof vs Duterte)

Asked what would happen to the information presented, Lacson said in jest: “Filed and noted.”

But turning serious, Lacson said: “Ang most revealing, coming from him, [na] kung siya mismo nasa posisyon na magtatanong siya mismo magdududa sa ginawa nya. So we adjourned it. Wala kaming makuhang punto na ipu-pursue pa."

(The most revealing part for me was to hear it coming from him. That if he were in our position, he himself would doubt his actions. So we adjourned it. We could not get any further point to pursue.)

Senator Manny Pacquiao asked Lascañas during the hearing how he would feel if they were to exchange shoes. Lascañas candidly said he would also doubt the flip-flopping statements. (LIVE: Senate hearing on Lascañas) 

“Hindi ko na alam ang paniniwalaan. Siya mismo magdududa pag ginawa sa kanya. Ganun din kami, nagdududa sa kanya,” he added. (I do not know what to believe anymore. He himself said he would doubt it if this were done to him. We are also doubting him.)

Lacson said it is now up to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the information presented during Monday’s hearing.

“It’s now up to the PNP and CHR to follow through kung meron sila dapat i-follow up, maraming information sabi ng PNP na first time nila narinig (if they have something to follow up. The PNP said there is a lot of information they heard for the first time), ” said Lacson.

Lascañas and another witness, Edgar Matobato, both cited alleged close aide of Duterte, SPO4 Sonny Buenaventura, in separate hearings as a key figure in the supposed Davao Death Squad.

But Lacson said there is no need for the Senate to probe it, as the allegation falls within the jurisdiction of the PNP. The PNP, at the forefront of the bloody war on drugs, has the backing of the President.

“It’s not for us to pursue anymore,” he said.

Like Lacson, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, before the hearing started, questioned the “probative value” of Lascañas testimony, saying the High Court “frowns” upon recantation.

No proof vs Duterte?

Lacson also downplayed the effect of the testimony on Duterte. After all, he said the President enjoys immunity from suit.

“Unang-una meron siyang immunity from suit. Di naman puwede gamitin ang walang probative value ang self-confession, so saan mo gagamitin? Ano sasagutin ng Pangulo? Ano sasagutin ng tao na dinadawit n'ya samantalang walang probative value ang testimonya?”

(First of all, he has immunity from suit. You cannot use the self-confession as it has no probative value. So where will you use it? How will the President respond? What will the implicated people say when the testimony has no probative value?)

Lacson said part of the committee recommendations is the filing of a perjury case against Lascañas for “lying” to the Senate. (READ: Lascasñas tells Senate he was forced to lie last year)

That would be one of the recommendation na puwede siya makasuhan ng perjury (that he be charged with perjury). But for the chair or committee to initiate filing, ako, personally di ko gagawin (Me, personally, I won't do it), he said, citing the "situation" of Lascañas.

Aside from this, Lacson said they will also propose a law that would increase the penalty for lying in congressional inquiries.

“Sa Amerika ganun. Pag nag-lie ka sa congressional hearing napakabigat ng parusa, federal offense 'yun. Dito, pinaglalaruan na lang natin statements under oath. Parang mame-mamera na lang yung testimonya na under oath ako ngayon, under oath susunod.”

(In America, that's how it is. If you lie in a congressional hearing, you will face a stiff penalty, it's a federal offense there. Here, we are just playing around with statements under oath. A testimony made under oath today or the next time comes cheap.)

Lacson draws from his experience, when witnesses who were lined up against him during the Arroyo administration repeatedly changed their allegations against him, he said.

Probe can still be reopened

But for Minority Senator Francis Pangilinan, the probe could still be reopened, citing Senator Antonio Trillanes IV's statement that there are others who would like to testify.

If they come out, Pangilinan said the investigation could continue just like what happened when Lascañas surfaced.

"Well something that can be closed can still be reopened so it's okay, it's not a big issue for me," Pangilinan told reporters.

“Sa akin may proseso tayo. Huwag pangunahan ang proseso. Sabi ni Senator Trillanes maaring tumestigo, let's wait and weigh it. Hintayin natin ibang ebidensya," he added.

Pangilinan also cautioned his colleagues against easily dismissing Lascañas as a liar, as there are still pending evidence and testimonies.

“Ang sa akin, seryoso pa rin ang kanyang allegations, di biro. Sabi nga ng Korte Suprema, the admission against interest ay matimbang din yan. I will also agree na meron pang mag-tetestigo, willing magsalita, hintayin muna natin. Huwag muna i-dismiss agad, na nagbaliktad therefore walang credibility," he said.

(For me, his allegations are still serious and not a joke. As the Supreme Court said, the admission against interest also has weight. I will also agree that there are others who will testify, are willing to talk, so let's wait. Let's not dismiss this immediately, that just because there was recantation, therefore there is no credibility.) – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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