Ex-cop links Duterte siblings Paolo and Sara to ‘drug war’ dirt | Inquirer News

Ex-cop links Duterte siblings Paolo and Sara to ‘drug war’ dirt


Arturo Lascañas

MANILA, Philippines — Oplan Tokhang, the brutal “knock and plead” anti-drug operation carried out by former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, was a brainchild of his daughter, then Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, while her brother, then Vice Mayor Paolo “Pulong” Duterte, led a narcotic smuggling ring behind the scenes, a confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) gunman has claimed.

The explosive allegations against two of Duterte’s children, Sara now vice president and Paolo a Davao representative, were first made by retired police officer Arturo Lascañas in an affidavit he executed during the six-day pretrial investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in February 2022.


Speaking to reporters via Zoom on Wednesday from an undisclosed location, Lascañas elaborated on the claims he made against the Duterte siblings in the affidavit as well as during a videotaped interview posted on the website of independent media outfit Vera Files on Jan. 29.


The Inquirer asked Sara for comment through her media officer but there was no response except “noted,” despite repeated follow-ups. Paolo’s media officer was not immediately able to give a comment as of press time.

According to Lascañas, Sara had “invented” Tokhang with Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, then the Davao City police chief, as a way to downgrade drug killings to mere kidnapping cases when the slain drug suspects inevitably went missing.

“[Sara] was the instigator of Oplan Tokhang,” Lascañas said in a mix of Filipino and Cebuano, referring to the campaign that involved law enforcers knocking on the doors of suspected drug users or pushers to ask them to stop their illegal activities.

Tokhang is a portmanteau of the Visayan words “katok” for knock and “hangyo” for plead. But the operation was not known for being merciful, as it led to a spate of summary killings and police abuses nationwide, with thousands of drug suspects killed for allegedly resisting authorities, a dubious police practice locally described as “nanlaban” cases.

At least 6,000 people were killed during the drug war, based on government data. But independent monitoring by human rights watchdogs put the number of fatalities at around 20,000.


Lascañas said: “She (Sara) didn’t want to be constantly interviewed by the media about the killings by motorcycle-riding [gunmen] in Davao.”

He noted that even under Sara, who served as Davao mayor from 2010 to 2013, and from 2016 to 2022, “so many were being killed and yet not one was investigated.”

Lascañas recalled that on orders of Sara and Dela Rosa, he was told to “just kidnap them and bury the bodies of the target [personalities] so that the cases end up as missing persons… because the media keep on asking about [the killings].”

This strategy was Sara’s way of “creating her own trademark” in her father’s drug war, said Lascañas.

In his estimation, “more or less 3,000” were supposedly abducted and killed in Davao for petty crimes, including drug-related offenses, under Sara’s leadership.

Weekly P150,000 for Pulong

Lascañas also detailed his role as the front man in illegal drug smuggling in Davao City allegedly run by Sara’s brother Paolo, also known by his nickname “Pulong,” then the vice mayor and now congressman of Davao’s first district.

The whistleblower claimed he received around P50,000 to P70,000 per week as he served as a security escort in the transport of bribe money “per instruction of Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte” from the Davao port.

Lascañas said he personally delivered around P50,000 to Dela Rosa and about P150,000 to Paolo every week.

In May 2018, the Office of the Ombudsman cleared Paolo and his brother-in-law Manases Carpio of involvement in the alleged smuggling of P6.4 billion in “shabu,” or crystal meth, into the country.

Duterte’s son was dragged into the controversy after a customs broker said the so-called Davao group was responsible for fast-tracking shipments. In December 2017, Paolo resigned his post as Davao’s vice mayor partly in response to the controversy.

Denied then confessed

Lascañas, who retired from the police force with the rank of Senior Police Officer 3, first came to public attention when Edgar Matobato, the first whistleblower from the DDS, a notorious vigilante group in Davao known for hunting down petty criminals, named him as among those involved in the so-called death squad.

He initially denied involvement in the killings until he appeared in a Senate hearing in February 2017 to retract his earlier denial, confessing to his role in DDS activities, such as the killings of some 1,000 people from 1993 to 2013, allegedly on Duterte’s orders.

Lascañas also told the Senate hearing he had killed 300 people, about 200 as a member of a hit squad at the behest of Duterte when he was mayor of the southern Mindanao city.

Citing safety concerns, Lascañas fled to Singapore on April 8, 2017, and has since remained in hiding for fear of his life. He recently reappeared in a series of videotaped interviews on Vera Files exposing what he allegedly knew of Duterte’s involvement in the drug killings.

In April 2017, lawyer Jude Josue Sabio filed a complaint against Duterte and 11 other government officials for mass murder and crimes against humanity over the drug war killings. Other groups later submitted supplemental communications, including then Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo party list Rep. Gary Alejano.

Angered by reports that the ICC was looking into the complaint, Duterte withdrew the country’s membership from the Rome Statute, the Hague-based court’s founding document in 2018, taking effect a year later.

The tribunal, however, proceeded with an investigation of the drug war despite a series of interruptions as the Philippine government argued that the ICC had no jurisdiction over the country anymore.

Lascañas said the ICC sought his testimony in 2022 for the case that was being built against his former boss.

Besides the 186-page affidavit, Lascañas said he submitted his handwritten notebook titled, “From Darkness to Light,” as well as other documentary evidence to support his claims against the Dutertes and the drug war they had first waged in Davao and later across the nation when Duterte came to power in 2016.

He claimed he still held the registration papers of a pickup vehicle provided by Duterte for use in Oplan Tokhang.

‘Not in power anymore’

“These were accepted by the [ICC’s] Office of the Prosecutor as exhibits,” he said, adding: “They didn’t say yet that these would be part of the evidence because these would only be [admitted] as evidence… once they are arrested and put into trial.”

Asked what prompted him to come out of hiding, Lascañas said: “First of all, they’re not in power anymore. Also, I stood as a witness to their crimes against humanity… so I have to put up a brave front and challenge [them]… and see who’s telling the truth.”

Duterte had six full terms as Davao City mayor between 1992 and 2016. He served as Davao congressman from 1998 to 2001 and was vice mayor from 2010 to 2013, while his daughter Sara was Davao’s chief executive.

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Lascañas worked with the Davao City police for 34 years in those years.

From 1992 to 2001 alone, the Davao media attributed at least 150 deaths in the city to the DDS and Duterte’s war on drugs.

TAGS: Arturo Lascañas, Drug war, Oplan Tokhang, Paolo Duterte, Sara Duterte

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