March 9, 2017 / 6:18 PM / 8 months ago

Philippine 'death squad' member not afraid of Duterte, says more will speak out

MANILA (Reuters) - A former policeman who confessed to being part of a “death squad” under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he did not fear him, and believed four other members of his alleged hit team would come forward to testify.

Retired policeman Arturo Lascanas speaks during an interview with Reuters at a safehouse in an undisclosed place in Metro Manila, in the Philippines March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

In an interview at a safe house, Arturo Lascanas, 56, told Reuters that he felt safer and at ease after publicly admitting his role in what he said were more than 200 extrajudicial killings in Davao when Duterte was a mayor obsessed with wiping out crime.

“I‘m happy because I know there would still be others who will come forward after me to reveal the killings in Davao,” said the second member of the so-called “Davao death squad” to testify at Senate inquiries.

Human rights groups documented about 1,400 suspicious killings in Davao during the 22 years Duterte was mayor and critics say the eight-month-old war on drugs he unleashed as president bears the same hallmarks.

That crackdown has seen 8,000 people killed, a third in police operations. Police deny involvement in the other killings, for which many have an assassination-style pattern.

“Nothing is impossible with God. I feared God but not him,” Lascanas said of the president.

“I‘m confident and happy now because I have done what I have to do, telling all of you what I have done. I may not be saved, but God will take care of me.”

Lascanas, a policeman for more than three decades, in his sworn affidavit detailed at length several incidents in which the death squad had carried out killings of suspected criminals.

On Thursday, he said there was mistrust among those involved in those alleged incidents since he went public last month and they feared they might be “erased”.

FEAR IN THE SHADOWS

“I know some people in my group - two former policemen and two civilians - who may be thinking of making public confessions like me, because they feel they will be safer coming out than being ‘erased’ if they hide in the shadows,” he said.

Duterte has denied ordering summary executions, either as president or as mayor. His police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, a former Davao City police commander, says the death squad is “fiction”.

In his affidavit and before senators, Lascanas corroborated some stories of Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hit-man who had testified in September to have killed more than 50 people, with instructions coming from Duterte‘s..

Matobato surrendered to Manila police on Thursday, emerging from six months in hiding to answer charges of attempting to murder a lawyer. He was released on bail.

Their separate Senate hearings were halted due to their failure to provide evidence the death squad had even existed. Duterte’s allies have ridiculed Lascanas and Matobato, describing their allegations as fabrications.

Lascanas said Duterte’s uncharacteristic silence about his confession was telling.

“I treat it as he has taken it personally,” he said. “And I‘m sure he has a lot to think about now, like who else within my group will come out.”

The credibility of Lascanas has been challenged repeatedly because he denied under oath in September that the death squad existed. That was a lie, he said, that weighed heavily on him, so he confessed to a priest and gave the clergyman an 81-page journal about his murders.

He said he feared for his family’s safety after an attempted kidnapping of his son in December and his daughter, a nurse, reported suspicious men were watching her home.

“Everything’s a gamble now,” Lascanas said. “...I’ve already conditioned my family to accept whatever happens to me.”

Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie

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