Alleged Davao Death Squad leader Arthur Lascañas breaks down after a public confession at the Senate. Senate PRIB/Released
MANILA, Philippines —They called him Superman.
That was the code the Davao Death Squad allegedly gave former Davao City mayor now President Rodrigo Duterte while they were killing criminals on his orders, according to police officer and the DDS’ self-confessed team leader Arthur Lascañas.
In his 12-page affidavit signed and notarized on Feb. 19, 2017, Lascañas said the squad initially targeted “drug addicts, drug pushers, snatchers, hold-uppers and other criminals.”
“Later on, however, we were ordered by Mayor Duterte to go after and kill his personal and political enemies,” he continued. “We became like hired killers who killed not only criminals but innocent people.”
Lascañas emerged last week to accuse Duterte of involvement in at least three murder cases, the massacre of a family and the bombing of Davao mosques, which in his affidavit he referred to as just the tip of a “bloody iceberg” that “Superman” had knowledge, directly ordered, consented, tolerated and acquiesced.
“The decision to erase and kill the entire family was cleared by ‘Superman,’ which was the code name our group gave to Mayor Duterte,” Lascañas said in his affidavit.
VERA Files tried to get a statement from Press Secretary Martin Andanar who referred us to Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella. As of presstime, Abella has not replied to our request for a statement.
Lascañas also formally identified at least 12 police officers and three other civilians in least five cases he said the DDS was allegedly involved in. These are the raid on the residence of Alan Tancio, allegedly a known drug pusher, in which a housemaid was killed, the massacre of the Patasaja family, the bombing of Davao mosques, and the murders of rogue Constabulary soldier Jun Bersabal and broadcaster Jun Pala.
He did not however include in his affidavit the murder of his two brothers that he had publicly confessed to, supposedly in “blind obedience and loyalty” to Duterte.
While Lascañas narrated how the DDS operated and executed its missions, and murdered and buried its victims, absent in his affidavits were the dates when these incidents actually happened. This while he claimed that the events contained in his affidavit are some of the “most significant killings” that he and those he tagged did together.
The police officers he named were Maj. Ernersto Macasaet, Maj. Ildefonso Asentista, SPO4s Fulgencio Pavo, Jun Naresma, Sanson Buenaventura, Ben Laud, Desiderio Cloribel, SPO3s Gerry Baguhin, Teodoro Paguidapon, SPO1 Jim Tan, Insp. Rommel Mitra and a certain Patayan. All except Mitra allegedly participated either in the killings or the bombing of Davao mosques or both.
Mitra was mentioned as involved in the alleged cover-up of the murder of Bersabal, who led a group of Philippine Constabulary soldiers engaged in criminal activities such as “akyat bahay (breaking and entering), rape, and robbery.”
Together with Edgar Matobato, who first confessed to be a member of the DDS, Mitra faced an investigation before the Commission on Human Rights, but was later exonerated.
Lascañas also named at least five civilians: Cris Lanay, brothers Valentin, Alan and Roland Duhilag and Jerry Trocio who allegedly acted as DDS accomplices. The name of a certain “Miguel” appeared in the affidavit as having helped strip naked the dead bodies of Patasaja family before burying them in a deep quarry.
A certain “Joy” of Bacaca Heights, Davao City was mentioned among the “players” or hitmen in the assassination of radio broadcaster Pala that included the Duhilag brothers and Trocio.
Lanay was a former member of the New People’s Army belonged to the Rebel Returnees Association (RRA) which Lascañas claimed they used as force multipliers in their operations. He was allegedly with the DDS from the first operational plan to kill Tancio, a known drug pusher in his residence at Bacaca, Davao City.
Lascañas recalled that Duterte won as mayor of Davao City in 1988 and immediately organized the Anti-Crime Task Force headed by Macasaet, who was reportedly Duterte’s “very close friend.” Lascañas became a member of the Task Force, which went after criminals and organized crime.
Encouraged by the resulting drop in the crime rate in the city, Duterte then began organizing liquidation squads. Eventually, Lascañas said the group also targeted Duterte’s personal and political enemies as well.
It was the raid at Tancio’s residence that gave the group the name DDS, he said. Originally they wanted to make it appear the NPA was behind the killings, by leaving a note that said, “Wag pamarisan mga salot ng lipunan (Don’t imitate the dregs of society).”
Somebody in the group protested the use of the name of the NPA, who would deny it, and could irritate Mayor Duterte. “So Asentista and Lanay inserted another name – the Davao Death Squad,” Lascañas said.
The raid on Tancio’s residence yielded no firearms or illegal drugs. No arrest was made but the house was peppered with bullets, and no one returned fire. The only occupant was a housemaid who was killed in the operation.
Lascañas recounted in detail revealed the killing of the Patasaja family whose head, identified only as “Mr. Patasaja” was believed to be behind the kidnapping of a certain Mrs. Abaca, wife of a local banker in Davao City named Dante Abaca. Mrs Abaca was eventually released.
Their initial investigation revealed that the person behind it was a certain Edwin Angeles, who Lascañas described in his affidavit as part Muslim, and believed to be the leader of an organized kidnap-for-ransom group from Basilan and Zamboanga Peninsula.
A check on Angeles’ background showed he was a police asset who had infiltrated the Abu Sayyaf group and introduced kidnap-for-ransom activities to destroy the group’s Islamist foundations. A former Marine colonel who led operations against the Abu Sayyaf told Vera Files Angeles was the nephew of the wife of a Marine general.
Angeles was arrested but escaped detention at Camp Crame together with Khaddafy Janjalani, who succeeded his brother Abdurajak as leader of the Abu Sayyaf.
The DDS, according to Lascañas, exhausted all means round the clock for weeks in different provinces in South and North Cotabato but failed to find Angeles. Several months later, “A-1” information revealed that it was Patasaja who was behind the Abaca kidnapping, but Angeles’ name continued to appear as financier even if they were zeroing in on Patasaja already.
Duterte was briefed about the abduction of the whole Patasaja family and his guidance sought. In his affidavit, Lascañas said Duterte gave the go signal to have the whole family “erased” and make sure “limpio lang (Visayan for clean or without trace)."
And so it was done, muffled gunshots of a firearm with suppressor were heard from a small house where Patasaja, his father-in-law, a male helper and a housemaid were being held.
“I then heard the loud screams of the wife and then silence after several gunshots were fired. I did not know then how the child was killed because it was dark,” Lascañas said in his affidavit.
In his public confession on February 20, Lascañas narrated how the group overruled him after he appealed to them to spare the boy’s life. He included this incident in his affidavit.
“After all their bodies were lined up on the ground, their personal belongings removed and burned including the Quran of the wife. All the bodies were then loaded into two vehicles and brought deeper into the Laud quarry where Miguel and two other trusted men of SPO4 Laud stripped them naked before burying them,” Lascañas narrated in his affidavit.
He said his team claimed and received the reward money of P200,000 from Duterte several days after that. Macasaet then instructed them to go back to the Laud quarry to check the area where the bodies were buried.
“We returned to Laud quarry and brought used oil which we put on top of the places where the bodies were buried to keep the flies away,” Lascañas said.
Lascañas also put in writing what he confessed publicly on the Bersabal murder, the Davao mosques bombing and the assassination of Pala.
“I do not expect forgiveness from the families and relatives of the people we killed. I do hope that they would at least find comfort in knowing what really happened to them and who was truly responsible for their disappearance and murder,” Lascañas said.
Lascañas said the incidents in his affidavit are just some of the many involving Duterte of which he had personal knowledge. He took part in them, together with police other police officers, rebel returnees and others with the prior knowledge, direct orders, consent, tolerance or acquiescence of then Mayor Duterte of Davao City.
“I know it’s not enough to say sorry, but I am truly sorry for what I have done and I am ready to face the consequences of my action,” Lascañas said.
(VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look into current issues. VERA is Latin for true.)