Lascañas’ ICC affidavit: No laughing matter

CHEERS TO Rappler for its comprehensive series on retired Davao City police officer Arturo Lascañas’  International Criminal Court (ICC) affidavit. With more articles to come,  12 parts of the series have been published, reporting in great detail Lascañas’ “personal knowledge”  of the Davao Death Squad’s (DDS) activities in his 186-page affidavit submitted to the ICC in November 2020. The ICC authorized last September 15 a probe into President Duterte’s drug war killings, as well as the killings in Davao when he was still mayor. 

Holding Duterte and the DDS accountable  has long felt like a lost cause. With hopes of attaining justice rekindled by the ICC’s decision, Lascañas’ whistleblowing has become more relevant than ever. 

Given the  gore of the stories contained in Lascañas’ testimony, it would be easy for a Duterte partisan to dismiss them as tall tales. But Rappler’s investigative team that worked on the series did what any journalistic team should do: track and document Lascañas’ public testimonies in 2017, reach out to him as many times as necessary to confirm information after he had gone into hiding, and corroborate or contrast these with earlier affidavits by other confessed members of the DDS and the past testimonies of the police, as well as public disclosures by Duterte and other persons allegedly involved with the death squad.

The series expounded heavily on the brutality with which the DDS operated in Davao City and the protection granted  them first, by then-mayor Duterte, who eventually became president, second, by the men in his Cabinet and his allies in the Senate.

Citing portions of Lascañas’ affidavit, Rappler established the connections and mapped out who were involved directly and indirectly in DDS operations and whose interests were being protected. Of particular interest is  the affidavit’s claim that Duterte had long coddled alleged drug trader Michael Yang, his former economic adviser and the same person now being implicated in the anomalous multibillion-peso pandemic deals of government with Pharmally Pharmaceuticals.

Lascañas also mentioned the mass graves that Duterte himself allegedly visited and the transactions that were facilitated by inordinate amounts of cash rewards. One such transaction, said Lascanas,  was the abduction and murder of the Patasaja family, whose head of the family was suspected of having kidnapped the wife of a local banker. Supposedly on Duterte’s orders, the DDS team that included Lascañas also killed Patasaja’s pregnant wife, his young child, his senior father-in-law and two househelp so as to leave no  eyewitnesses. Lascañas claims this mission haunts him to this day.

Rappler clarified that the limited immunity deal which the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC granted to Lascañas meant that his confessions would not be used against him, but he can be persecuted for perjury or lying under oath. Likewise, he can still be prosecuted in Philippine courts.

The level of detail in the affidavit of Lascanas already lends it credibility. But Rappler’s method of reporting further established the affidavit as a legal and consequential undertaking, one that should be kept in the public mind as it involves none other than the highest official  in government. The series also pointed out that it sought sources implicated by Lascañas, many of whom were unavailable for comment or declined to do so.

Lascañas believes that he is on the side of truth, and does not fear Duterte. In its 11th installment, the series profiled Lascañas and recounts his turnaround from a loyal cop to a whistleblower. In his affidavit, he wrote of when the DDS murdered his brother, Fernando B. Lascañas: “My strength, my whole being, then withered, but not my soul and spirit.” Philippine media should keep an eye on him and on the ICC proceedings more closely.