Malacañang on Tuesday played down as “part of a larger noise” retired police officer Arthur Lascañas’ confirmation of extrajudicial killings in Davao City and linking President Duterte to the so-called Davao Death Squad.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella cast doubt on Lascañas’ comments at a news conference in the Senate on Monday, noting that the former policeman had previously cleared Mr. Duterte of allegations made last year during a Senate hearing by confessed hit man Edgar Matobato.
“Based on how he has performed as a witness, he seems rather discredited. In 2016, he denied certain things and in 2017, he flip-flops,” Abella told a news briefing at the Palace.
He said Lascañas’ conflicting statements put everything the former policeman said in doubt.
“Let’s put it this way: The situation is such that the testimony of the man is in context or there seems to be a lot of other noise. So that puts his testimony in a rather doubtful light at this stage,” Abella said.
Asked if Mr. Duterte would directly answer Lascañas’ allegations, Abella said: “Well, if he does so, he will. But as far as I know, he is not leaning toward that direction.”
If those accusations were true, those behind the claims should bring charges against Mr. Duterte in court, he said.
Abella said the Palace was not brushing aside the allegations. “What we’re saying [is that] it seems [that it’s] part of a larger noise that’s arising,” he said.
He also dismissed the “colorful language” of Sen. Leila de Lima’s statement on Tuesday that Mr. Duterte was the Philippines’ “No. 1 criminal” and a “psychopathic serial killer.”
De Lima also called on the Cabinet to declare Mr. Duterte unfit to discharge his duties.
“Seriously?” Abella said.
The international group Human Rights Watch raised the urgency of an investigation by the United Nations of alleged extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs after Lascañas’ public confession.
“The allegations by former police officer Arthur Lascañas—that President Rodrigo Duterte, when mayor of Davao City, ordered the killing of several people—heighten the urgent need for an independent UN investigation [of the killings of] more than 7,000 people in Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ to uncover ultimate responsibility for those crimes,” Phelim Kine, director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Kine also called on Philippine authorities to drop all charges against De Lima, who had drawn Mr. Duterte’s ire by investigating the Davao killings in 2009 when she was the head of the Commission on Human Rights and trying to show parallels between those murders and extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs during a Senate inquiry last year.
Kine said Lascañas’ disclosures pointed to a reason for the Duterte administration to “launch a politically motivated prosecution” of De Lima.
With the cooperation of convicts detained at New Bilibid Prison, the administration has brought criminal charges against De Lima, alleging that the senator protected the drug trade in the national penitentiary during her tenure as justice secretary.
“The authorities should immediately drop all charges against Senator De Lima, cease their harassment of her and cooperate fully with a UN probe,” Kine said.
Fr. Amado Picardal, executive secretary of the Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), expressed hope on Tuesday that more witnesses would come forward and disclose their knowledge of the Davao killings.
In an article published on the CBCP website, Picardal, former spokesperson for the Coalition Against Summary Executions, said he was praying that other police officers and hit men of the assassination squad would be “touched by their conscience” and testify. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND JULIE M. AURELIO