Interview with confessed hitman Arturo Lascañas
(Editors Note: Retired SPO3 Arturo Lascañas has granted interviews to the Inquirer and several media organizations on his role in the Davao Death Squad [DDS] and President Duterte’s alleged responsibility for its killing spree. The Inquirer has reported that at least four of his former cohorts also intend to go public with their own accounts of the bloody deeds of the DDS. In this report, Lascañas recalls his early years as a police officer and his repudiation of his murderous past.)
Arturo Lascañas grabbed his jacket and wore it against the cold gust from the air-conditioner. He felt fine and “very healthy,” he said, as he took his seat.
“Call me Arthur,” he said and in a soft but firm, low voice, he told his story.
The Davao-born and -bred retired policeman recalled that stabbing and shooting suspected criminals was a rite of passage for any young officer to be deemed good enough to join a major operation called “lakad,” a euphemism for a hit.
“I did it myself,” he said in Filipino. “You could not join the group unless you know how to stab, shoot and wrap a guy with packing tape.”
To become a DDS member, one must know how to kill swiftly and mercilessly, he said.
During those times, when President Rodrigo Duterte was still a Davao city prosecutor, an extrajudicial killing was called “salvaging.”
In 1989, a year after Duterte won as mayor, Lascañas was assigned to the Anti-Crime Unit of the police force — the birthplace of the DDS.
Lascañas believed he had a noble mission, and killing criminals — especially those involved in drugs — was “public service, for the welfare of the family and community.”
He said the five pillars of the justice system — law enforcement, prosecution, the courts, the penal system and the community itself — were wobbly in Davao at that time due to the breakdown of peace and order, abetted by the New People’s Army.
“And so,” he said, “we added a sixth pillar… the Death Squad.”
The core group of the original DDS allegedly included him, Sonny Buenaventura (now retired but currently working in Davao City Hall) and Jim Tan, whom he recruited “because he knew a lot of ‘players,’ (or) hit men.”
His main job was to plan the operations, while Buenaventura took orders from Duterte and prepared the “reward money” for every successful lakad.
He received a monthly allowance of P100,000, but signed a receipt for only half the amount. The rest he used at his own disposal, giving some of it to about a dozen other people who helped him.
The DDS method of eliminating targets is exactly the same as the one being employed against many of those killed in the ongoing war on drugs — with a planted .38 caliber pistol and some shabu.
“These suspects are very smart, they flush the evidence down the toilet. But the raiding party is well-prepared, especially if the mission is to ‘neutralize’ the suspect,” he said.
The standard reason for justifying the killings, the now infamous term “nanlaban” (the suspect fought back), rarely happened in Davao, he said.
“Based on my experience in Davao, if there is someone who fights back, it’s just bad luck for the police,” he said.
In 2015, he suffered from a kidney disease that required dialysis. This marked his turnaround from his days of “breaking bad” with the DDS.
“I embraced God because I felt that I won’t recover from the sickness,” he said.
He said he promised God, “If you extend my life, I will tell the whole truth, I would not take it with me to the grave.”
He had a successful kidney transplant and regarded his “tremendous recovery” as God’s answer.
On Maundy Thursday in 2016, he started writing, in longhand, a no-holds-barred confession.
“I recalled the massacre of a family … and the Jun Pala case,” he said. “In my mind, if the Mayor (Duterte) enters (the presidential race) this will be the Lord’s trap.”
“If he loses, he’ll end up in jail. But if he wins, surely he will apply the DDS formula in Davao. I was right,” he said.
Lascañas said his family cried and were scared when he told them he would make a public confession.
“I told them, this is my only redemption, if not in this lifetime, in the afterlife,” he said.
Lascañas said he started hearing Mass soon after his kidney transplant and prayed the rosary in the morning and before going to bed.
He said he has learned “not to fear.”
“The mayor and I will go to the same place,” he said. “I pity him … because of what happened, because he will answer not just to the laws of man but also the laws of God. He cannot escape that. Same with me.”
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