A SENATE hearing investigating allegations a “death squad” operated under President Rodrigo Duterte when he was mayor of Davao city was abruptly ended on Monday because senators feared his “anger”, a senior senator has claimed.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV commented to ABS-CBN News on Tuesday, stating: “The implication is that our president is a murderer. Senators do not want to face that because they do not know what to do as they might earn Duterte’s anger.”
Retired policeman Arturo Lascanas testified on Monday he had killed 200 people while supervising operations of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) at the behest of Duterte who was the city’s mayor for 22 years.
The session ended abruptly, however, when senators questioned Lascanas’ credibility and demanded proof after few fresh claims emerged during the testimony.
Lascanas admitted to lying in an earlier legislative probe in October last year.
He said he had been forced to lie when he previously testified under oath the vigilante death squad did not exist, claiming he feared for the life of his loved ones and had been ordered by senior officers to “deny everything”.
But lawmakers were sceptical of Lascanas’ change of heart and demanded an immediate end to the proceedings.
Despite the doubts raised by the senators at Monday’s hearing, Trillanes believes the retired policeman’s credibility to be intact and pointed out lawmakers had failed to find holes in Lascanas’ testimony throughout the six-hour grilling.
“After a six-hour grilling from senators…he (Lascanas) was able to enumerate detailed accounts of murder, EJKs (extra-judicial killings) and contract killings masterminded by no less than Duterte and his son, Paolo,” Trillanes said in a statement on Tuesday.
He also accused senators of not possessing the bravery Lascanas displayed by testifying.
“They’re senators but they can’t even say anything negative about the president. They flatter him because they do not want him to be angry at them. And here is a retired policeman risking his life and that of his family,” he said.
Trillanes’ strong words and outspoken criticism of the president has not gone unnoticed. Duterte’s son, Paolo, who is Davao City vice-mayor, accused the senator of making money out of his attempts to bring down his father.
“Trillanes is making money in this circus because his political career is already at a dead end,” Paolo told GMA News.
He said Trillanes is now “desperate” to bring down his father, insisting the senator would “move heaven and earth” to pin down both himself and his father in these “made-up accusations.”
Paolo has been implicated in Lascanas’ testimony, with the policeman claiming the DDS were ordered to kill a motorcyclist after an altercation with Paolo.
He also alleged Paolo had prevented him from arresting a Taiwanese national believed to be involved with illegal drug trade.
Duterte has denied ordering the summary executions that have plagued his time both as Davao mayor and during his term as president.
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.
More than 8,000 people have been killed nationwide since he 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 killings and say they are responsible for 2,555 of the deaths, when suspects had resisted arrest.
On Monday, police chief Ronald dela Rosa announced the re-launch of anti-narcotics operations after a month-long suspension of police involvement in the campaign.
Additional reporting by Reuters