Sponsorship speech for the Committee Report regarding the Inquiry on the Confession of SPO3 Arturo Lascanas

Mr. President, fellow members of this august chamber, I have the honor to report on the Senate floor the result of the inquiry, in aid of legislation, conducted by the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs on the Privilege Speech of Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV regarding the public confession of retired SPO3 Arturo Lascañas on the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), as embodied in Committee Report No. 97.

Mr. President, one night in September 2015, an ailing man while undergoing dialysis in a hospital in Davao City, dreamt that the devil was inside his room. The dream seemed so real, he even had flashbacks on certain incidents of his life, particularly the times when he killed people. He recalled calling the name of Jesus and made a promise to serve His will from thereon. Thereafter, he found himself saved by a child-like image appearing from a bright light. He then woke up from his dream and became a renewed man. That was the story of the spiritual awakening of Mr. Arturo Lascañas.

More than a year later, or on October 3, 2016, the same man was summoned by the Senate committee on justice and human rights to testify under oath as to the alleged existence of and the President’s participation and involvement in the Davao Death Squad (DDS). Before proceeding, he took an oath before everyone present in this very hall and in front of the entire nation, invoking the name of God to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

Mr. President, not only did he deny the existence of DDS, he even declared it as nothing more than a media hype and testified on record that Mr. Edgar Matobato was a liar. Four months later, he was back here at the Senate and recanted his previous testimony.

It is no secret that several members of this august body expressed apprehension in listening to what he had to say. I myself, too, had reservations as to giving him another chance after repudiating his previous testimony.

I made it on record during our hearing, and I am stating it once again that I have grown averse to flip-flopping testimonies made under oath, probably because of similar incidents in the past that directly and indirectly affected my person. My animosity, however, was no excuse to shirk my duties as Chairman of the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs to which this inquiry was referred.

Human experience tells us that lies open doors towards distrust, and more often than not, destroy relationships. In the case of Mr. Lascañas, the Senate has once again opened its doors to hear what he had to say only because his statements may be imbued with public interest.

Mr. President, at the start of the inquiry, I openly posited two considerations by which Mr. Lascanas’ testimony was to be evaluated.

First, it was up to Mr. Lascañas to prove not only his credibility as a witness, but also the credibility of his testimony. It was not only proper but right, Mr. President and distinguished colleagues, because he was presented as a recanting witness. Let us be guided by the wisdom of the Supreme Court in People vs. Ayuman [G.R. No. 133436. April 14, 2004] when it said:

“xxx mere retraction by a prosecution witness does not necessarily vitiate the original testimony if credible; that the Court looks with disfavor upon retractions of testimonies previously given in court; that the rationale for the rule is that affidavits of retraction can easily be secured from witnesses, usually through intimidation or for a monetary consideration; and that recanted testimony is exceedingly unreliable. There is always the probability that it will later be repudiated.”

Mr. President, let us not overlook the fact that Mr. Lascañas, a person who claimed as someone with close personal relations with the President of the Republic, admittedly tried but failed to close deals and secure contracts with the government, namely Small Town Lottery (STL) franchises, customs brokerage, van terminal, and quarrying.

Second consideration is the Res Inter Alios Acta doctrine, which states that the rights of a party cannot be prejudiced by an act, declaration, or omission of another. Simply speaking, to successfully implicate President Duterte and other Davao City police officers, it was incumbent upon Mr. Lascañas to (1) prove the conspiracy by evidence other than the admission itself; (2) show that the admission relates to the common object; and (3) prove that it has been made while he was engaged in carrying out the conspiracy.

Mr. President, this committee sought to be guided by the wisdom of our Courts because ultimately, the matter will fall into their hands should the issue be proven to be more than a political crusade. More importantly, I do not want the Senate of the Philippines to be used as a staging area to condition the minds of the people into accepting baseless testimonies offered to cause divisiveness to this nation.

We expected to hear details and receive other proof beyond what was easily accessible to a former police officer like Mr. Lascañas. The mosque bombings and the deaths of persons such as Pala and Bersabal are of public record. Any person with an evil design could easily fabricate allegations to be inserted in between circumstances already borne by official records. Moreover, his statements with respect to the raid of Alan Tancio’s house as well as the killing of a certain Patajasa or Pasataja family were proven to be lies based on investigations conducted by not only the PNP, but also the media.

To elaborate, I beg your indulgence, Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, and may I request permission to show a PowerPoint presentation of your committee’s findings:

1. Regarding the alleged origins of the Davao Death Squad – based on the statements of Mr. Lascañas, the tag “Davao Death Squad” started after his team, composed of the select members of the Davao Police and several members of the “Rebel Returnees,” raided the residence of a drug pusher named Alan Tancio.

He stated in his Affidavit, and I quote: “…we were not known as DDS until the raid on the residence of Alan Tancio when the Davao City Police Director was ISIDRO LAPENA.”

Upon checking the service record of now PDEA Director Isidro Lapeña, we found out that he was assigned as the Davao City Police Director from 1996 to 1998.

In view of the foregoing, the moniker “Davao Death Squad” must have been coined sometime between 1996 and 1998.

Lo and behold, Mr. President. During his testimony before this committee, Mr. Lascañas narrated under oath and I quote: “2001, dito po nacreate ang heinous crime group. Isa ako sa mga senior na pasimuno ng death squad. Dito din, in between sa mga taon na ito, dito lumabas ang Davao Death Squad…” Ang taong 2001, Mr. President, hindi po ito sakop ng 1996 at 1998.

2. This Committee also conducted a fact-check on the details of the raid of the residence of a known drug pusher in Davao City named Alan Tancio. Again, based on both the testimony and sworn affidavit of Mr. Lascañas, the residence of Alan Tancio was at Bacaca Heights, Davao City. Further, he narrated that the only occupant, a housemaid, was shot and killed.

At this point, allow me to show a video report by Ms. Maki Pulido which was aired on GMA-7’s State of the Nation with Jessica Soho last February 23, 2017:

Mr. President, it is clear that the residents attested that the raid that Mr. Lascañas was referring to took place at Garcia Heights, Bajada, Davao City, and not in Bacaca Heights, Davao City. Further, contrary to Lascañas’ claim that there is only one fatality, the residents, as they clearly remember the incident, attested that the said raid resulted to the death of two individuals, one male and one female.

3. Mr. President, among the alleged killings highlighted by Mr. Lascañas was that of the Patasaja Family.

Let it be of record that Mr. Lascañas referred to this personality as PATASAJA/PATAJASA/PASAJATA in his sworn affidavit and testimony.

That’s fine and understandable, Mr. President. First and foremost, he said that Mr. Patasaja was ordered killed because he was allegedly the mastermind of the kidnapping of a certain Mrs. Abaca, purportedly a prominent person in Davao City. However, based on a Memorandum submitted by the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) dated March 3, 2017, there were no available records pertaining to the kidnapping of Mrs. Abaca.

Next point, according to Mr. Lascañas, the involvement of Mr. Patasaja was made known to the police based on information received from a certain Insp. Patayan who was purportedly a neighbor of Mr. Patajasa.

Once again, Mr. President, allow me present a summary of the information gathered by the PNP Region 12 Office:

a. Inspector Tzaddi W. Patayan formerly lived in Pendatun Avenue, Barangay West, General Santos City and passed away in 2008;

b. Based on the respective interviews conducted of Insp Patayan’s sister and daughter, they have never heard of the kidnapping and that they never had neighbors living in their area with the family name Patasaja or Pasajata;

c. Even the Purok Chairman in the person of Roberto Dingal, who lived in the area since his childhood, gave similar statement; and

d. All police stations in General Santos City issued certifications stating that there was no incident record or reports connected to the kidnapping of the Patasaja family.

Lastly, we noticed a glaring inconsistency in Lascañas’ narration of facts pertaining to the killing of the Patasaja family in his press conference last February 20, 2017 and the Affidavit that he signed the day before. During his press conference, he said that the entire Patajasa family was killed in his presence but in his Affidavit, he said that he only heard gunshots coming from the small house where the Patasajas were killed. He further added that he did not know how the child was killed because it was dark.

Mr. President, it is true that a witness is not expected to give error-free testimony considering the lapse of time and the treachery of human memory as stated in People vs. Mirandilla (G.R. No. 186417 July 27, 2011), but the pronouncement of the Supreme Court on inconsistencies on minor lapses should not be twisted in order to be applicable to contradictions on relevant matters as to how a person witnessed the commission of a crime.

4. Mr. Lascañas also presented to this Committee his narrative as to the circumstances surrounding the death of Gaudencio “Jun” Bersabal, Jr.

As a brief overview, Jun Bersabal was a former leader of ex-PC soldiers engaged in various criminal activities. He was allegedly killed per order of then-Mayor Duterte. To cover up the killing, Mr. Lascañas claimed that they connived with Insp Rommel Mitra of Sigaboy Police Station to make it appear that Bersabal was properly turned over to the station after his arrest and thereafter escaped during the night.

Mr. President, allow me to note that Mr. Lascañas, together with SPO4 Fulgencio Pavo, SPO3 Gerry Bagohin, SPO3 Stephen Abella, Edgar Matobato, SPO2 Ruben Laguesma and P/SR INSP Rommel Mitra were all made respondents on the investigation conducted by the CHR on the death of Bersabal. The findings show that there was no clear and convincing evidence presented to prove their involvement and participation in said killing. Having said so, the presumption of regularity accorded to public officials in the performance of duty prevailed.

5. Then, there was the case of Juan “Jun” Porras Pala or more commonly known as Jun Pala. According to Mr. Lascañas, he was hired to kill Jun Pala in exchange for Three Million Pesos (P3,000,000.00). He substantiated that Pala was murdered upon the instructions of then Mayor Duterte because of the former’s attacks against the Mayor in his radio programs.

Mr. President, it is also difficult to single out then Mayor Duterte as the mastermind of Pala’s death as CIDG 11 Report states, “Mrs. Louie Pala, the victim’s wife, executed an Affidavit on October 16, 2003 stating that her late husband generated lots of enemies during his political career both public and private entities and received several threats to his life.”

While it is easy to conclude that motive points to then Mayor Duterte, lest we should forget that the Supreme Court in People vs. Maongco (G.R. No. 108963) stated that motive alone is not proof of a crime. In order to tip the scales in its favor, intent and not motive must be established. Motive is hardly ever an essential element of a crime. A man driven by extreme moral perversion may be led to commit a crime, without a real motive but just for the sake of committing it.

6. Lascañas also claimed his involvement in the killing of Master Sergeant Donald Caigas in 2010. However, in a news report by GMA News Online on July 19, 2011, Col. Domingo Tutaan said that M/Sgt. Donald Caigas passed away in 2010 due to a lingering illness. In fact, the Department of Justice was furnished a copy of a certification proving his death. During that time, Caigas was a respondent in the preliminary investigation conducted by the DOJ regarding the disappearance of two (2) U.P. students.

7. Lastly, there were also mentions of the killings of the following personalities: Fred Sotto; a certain Felicisimo Cunanan, Jr.; Eleven (11) Chinese nationals; a Taiwanese national and two (2) Filipino companions; and an unnamed dance instructor of Mayor Duterte’s sister, Jocelyn.

Mr. President, these alleged murders were not included in the Affidavit of Mr. Lascañas and the facts surrounding therein were not discussed in detail in his testimony. As such, the Committee was deprived of the opportunity to verify even the mere fact of death of the people mentioned. This portion of his testimony was disregarded due to his failure to establish the corpus delicti therein.

Corpus delicti refers to the fact of the commission of the crime charged or to the body or substance of the crime. In order to prove corpus delicti, Lascañas must have established that (1) a certain fact has been proven – the persons mentioned died / were killed; and (2) the Davao Death Squad and Mayor Duterte are criminally responsible for the act.

Mr. President, this inquiry only highlighted the fact that there are individuals who have the audacity to spread falsity before this august body. These untruthful statements, given under oath before a Senate Committee, undermine Congress’ Constitutionally-granted authority to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation. These attempts to impede the Legislative branch from performing its Constitutional function must therefore be punished accordingly.

Despite the fact that perjury and giving false testimony are already criminal in nature, the prevalence of committing such crimes remains. One solution is to impose heavier penalties to serve as deterrence against possible violators.

It is also high time to amend the Senate Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation, particularly the provision granting contempt power. At present, there are only two instances for a testimony made may be subject of contempt, when he testifies falsely, or evasively. As it is currently worded, any witness can change his position or recant his testimony, without fear of penalty. Having said so, amendment should be made to punish witnesses presenting incompatible and inconsistent testimonies.

Mr. President, allow me to end by giving emphasis to the fact that mere charge or allegation of wrongdoing will never suffice. Accusation is not synonymous with guilt. There must always be sufficient evidence to support the charge. This brings to the fore the application of the age-old but familiar rule that says he who alleges must prove.

The recantation of Mr. Lascañas was evaluated in the context of his uncorroborated statement, as against public records and evidence that he and other witnesses presented and submitted in the previous inquiry conducted by the Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Finally, his recantation was interpreted as a mere sign of his unreliability.

Mr. President, contrary to the media statement of a distinguished colleague, Mr. Lascanas was not denied the opportunity to testify here at the Senate. With no evidence other than his self-serving statements, there was a motion to adjourn the inquiry which was seconded without any objection from any member of this Committee.

Mr. President, notwithstanding the inconsistencies and lack of evidentiary value of the testimony presented, stories and allegations as to this so-called Davao Death Squad will continue to plague this nation. One thing is for sure, Arturo Lascañas is not the person to prove its actual existence and finally bring to justice the perpetrators of numerous unresolved crimes in Davao City or elsewhere if proven so.

Lastly, Mr. President, there is no better way to conclude this sponsorship speech than the words of retired SPO3 Arturo Lascañas himself.

[* video clip *]

Thank you very much.

*****