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"Tip of a bloody iceberg": Ex-cop links Philippine leader to killings

MANILA, Philippines -- A retired Philippine police officer testified Monday that President Rodrigo Duterte and his men were linked to nearly 200 killings that the officer and a “death squad” carried out when Duterte was mayor of a southern city.

Arturo Lascanas outlined at a Senate inquiry some of the key killings he and others allegedly staged “with the prior knowledge, direct orders, consent, tolerance or acquiescence” of Duterte, who was mayor of Davao city. “What is related here is just the tip of a bloody iceberg,” Lascanas said in a statement distributed to senators.

Duterte is also under fire for his more recent national anti-drug crackdown that has left thousands of suspected dealers and users dead since he became president last June.

Pro-administration senators grilled Lascanas in the televised inquiry, asking why he had earlier denied both any involvement in the Davao killings and the existence of a “Davao death squad.”

Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, described Lascanas as a “perjured witness” and called his testimony “fabricated and unacceptable.”

Lascanas said Monday he had lied earlier about his role because he was concerned about his family’s safety.

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He testified that he was given large amounts of money and monthly allowances by Duterte, a few times directly and often through other police officers, for carrying out the Davao killings and for “blind obedience and loyalty” to the mayor.

Lascanas said he knew of Duterte’s direct involvement in some of the killings, and that his group carried out other attacks led by police officers who told him the assaults were ordered by Duterte.

One target was radio commentator Jun Pala, who had angered Duterte with critical broadcasts. Lascanas said he was in a group of gunmen who killed Pala in 2003, and that Duterte personally gave him a reward of 1 million pesos ($19,800).

In a separate Senate inquiry last year, alleged gunmen Edgar Matobato linked Lascanas to the Davao killings. Lascanas, who also testified, denied under oath that he took part.

Lascanas, 56, who retired as a Davao police officer last December, said Monday that his conscience bothered him and that he had a spiritual awakening after suffering a kidney ailment that prompted him to publicly confess. He said he had two of his brothers killed for their involvement in illegal drugs.

Former police officer Arthur Lascanas speaks during a press conference at the Senate in Manila on February 20, 2017. Getty

“I regret what I did and I know I have to answer for all my misdeeds before the people, the law and before God,” he said in the written statement. Some crime suspects were taken to Duterte before they were killed, he said.

Lascanas first made the allegations at a news conference two weeks ago, and repeated them under oath in Monday’s Senate hearing. He gave details of other killings and suggested Duterte’s son, now the vice mayor of Davao city, and the current national police chief may have been aware of the extrajudicial killings.

There was no immediate reaction from Duterte’s son or the police chief.

Lascanas said the victims included 11 Chinese drug suspects who tried to bribe their way out of trouble but were gunned down in a quarry on orders from Duterte. He said his group also killed a supposed Pakistani terror suspect on an island near Davao city.

Police Chief Superintendent Augusto Marquez Jr. told the Senate inquiry that details and names provided by Lascanas may be used to reopen the investigation of the killings.

National police chief Director-General Ronald Dela Rosa, meanwhile, announced Monday that the police force will rejoin the president’s crackdown on drugs after being barred about a month ago over an extortion and murder scandal.

Police participating in the next stage of the campaign, called “Double Barrel Reloaded,” will be carefully screened to prevent rogue officers from using the crackdown as a cover for extortion and other crimes, he said. Duterte had wanted the national police to be cleansed thoroughly of corruption and it is not clear how extensive the internal cleansing has been.

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