Prominent rights lawyers satisfied with Lascañas’ story on DDS
MANILA — The testimony of Arturo Lascañas against President Duterte and his alleged involvement in the bloody kills of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) may be derided by the administration and its congressional allies, but the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers are solidly standing by their client.
“I am satisfied with his story,” Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, national chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Wednesday.
Aside from a thorough vetting of Lascañas’ claim, Diokno said the advocacy brought forth by this case has always been something that FLAG has fought for: protecting and preserving human rights.
FLAG was founded by Diokno’s father, the democracy icon, Sen. Jose “Ka Pepe” Diokno, in 1974 along with other eminent human rights lawyers, Lorenzo Tañada and Joker Arroyo, to provide quick legal assistance to those being arrested or detained during the dark years of martial law.
The old man Diokno had just been released from prison that time, after a two-year detention without any charges filed against him. He shared a prison compound with the martyred Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. in Fort Bonifacio and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
“Extrajudicial killings… is a grave issue as far as human rights is concerned. We have been consistent through all these years about fighting against any shortcuts to due process and to the law,” Diokno said.
“You know our biggest concern about any kind of extrajudicial killings, especially if it is a practice sanctioned by the state, is that extrajudicial killings do not only kill people, it kills the legal system itself,” Diokno stressed.
When Lascañas implicated Mr. Duterte in the death squad last Monday, opposition lawmakers were quick to point out that with Diokno and fellow FLAG lawyers Arno Sanidad, and Alexander Padilla acting as his counsel, it would be hard to ignore the former policeman even if he was making a complete turnaround from his Senate testimony last year.
Whistleblower Edgar Matobato said at the Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings last October that Lascañas was part of the DDS, an allegation that the latter denied before the senators.
“He was not at that time ready to come out and tell everything that he knew. When he decided to come out the other day, those concerns have already been addressed,” Diokno said.
Diokno said that Lascañas’ claim was “subjected.., to the same kind of evaluation (FLAG) gives to any other case that we took,” after the testimony of the former policeman was brought to their attention. The group does not solicit cases.
Among FLAG’s prominent and controversial cases in the past decades were the Kuratong Baleleng rubout (in which former police chief and now senator Panfilo Lacson was dragged but later cleared) and the plunder trial of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
“Every time we come out on behalf of a client, we stake our reputations, of course, and that is the same for every lawyer who comes out publicly. In our situation, because we espouse human rights, perhaps there is a bit more pressure on this group in that sense that before we come out, we are pretty sure of what we are going to do,” Diokno said. SFM/rga