A RETIRED senior policeman in the Philippines has admitted to killing 200 people by his own hand or while supervising operations of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) at the behest of President Rodrigo Duterte who was the city’s mayor for 22 years.
Testifying against the president in the senate on Monday, Arturo Lascanas said broadcaster Jun Pala and Fred Sotto – a former part-time commentator – were among those killed between 1989 to 2015.
According to ABS-CBN News, Lascanas, who claims to be the death squad leader, said he did not always shoot targeted people, but also oversaw the operations.
He said he had killed 300 people, 200 of which while serving as the death squad member, with his last killing in 2015.
He also detailed two cases where he had murdered Duterte critics, under the instruction of the then-mayor’s bodyguard.
“Since the DDS started in 1989, let’s just say, (we killed) almost 200 (people),” he said, as quoted by GMA News Online.
Lascanas, who broke down in tears before the media when he revealed his story two weeks ago, is the second person to testify before lawmakers to Duterte’s alleged links to a clandestine hit squad.
Duterte’s allies dismiss the claims as a plot by his opponents to discredit a popular leader and his war on drugs, a campaign critics say has disturbing similarities to a pattern of mysterious killings in Davao.
“I feared for the life of my loved ones,” Lascanas said when asked why he had earlier denied the death squad existed.
He said he changed testimony because he was tormented by what he had done and wanted the truth to “set me free”.
It was “because of my desire to tell all the truth, not only because of my spiritual renewal, but the fear of God, I wanted to clear my conscience”, he said.
Duterte has repeatedly denied involvement in summary executions, either as president or during his 22 years as Davao mayor.
His police chief Ronald dela Rosa, a former Davao police chief under Duterte, has dismissed the death squad claims as a myth created by the media.
Human rights groups have documented about 1,400 suspicious killings in Davao while Duterte was mayor and critics say the war on drugs he unleashed as president has the same hallmarks.
Numerous investigations have found no proof linking Duterte to those deaths.
With persistent questioning from Sen. Pacquiao, Lascañas repeatedly denies he is being used. Insists he knows the repercussions of testimony pic.twitter.com/lUXcwL5BUP
— Raffy Tima (@raffytima) March 6, 2017
More than 8,000 people have been killed nationwide since Duterte took office eight months ago, mostly drug users killed by mysterious gunmen in incidents authorities attribute to vigilantes, drug gang members silencing informants or unrelated murders.
Police reject activists’ allegations they are behind most of those killings. Police say they were responsible for 2,555 of those cases, when drug suspects had resisted arrest.
On Monday, dela Rosa announced the re-launch of police anti-narcotics operations after a month-long suspension of police involvement in the campaign.
Additional reporting by Reuters