MANILA - The chief presidential legal counsel believes any Senate investigation on the alleged Davao Death Squad is a waste of time, saying President Duterte, as a lawyer, could not have ordered the murders.
"They can do all the committee hearings, but I think it’s just a waste of time with this kind of witness they have," Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said in an interview with ANC's "Headstart" Tuesday.
Panelo said retired cop Arthur Lascañas is not a credible witness since he had already denied the existence of the DDS, only to issue a retraction months later.
"A witness, to be credible, must be credible by himself and his testimony must also be credible, and on both counts, he fails," he said.
He also struck at the core of Lascañas claims that Duterte operated a "death squad" while mayor of Davao City, giving cash and orders for police and assassins to murder criminals.
"He claims the president ordered him to kill. He claims he talked to the President about it. He claims he received money," he said.
"How can a president who is a lawyer do that? He is a lawyer. He commits a crime and then he shares it? It’s against human nature, against common sense, and there’s no logic in it," he said.
Asked if veteran lawyers Jose Manuel Diokno, Arno Sanidad and Alexander Padilla were misled by Lascañas, he said: "Lawyers don't lie. Clients do."
In remarks contradicting his denial under oath last year of the existence of such a "death squad", Lascañas said he was one of the ringleaders of the group that began operating when Duterte became mayor of the southern city in 1988.
Duterte has repeatedly denied involvement in vigilantism or summary executions, either as president or during his 22 years as Davao mayor. His police chief has denied there was ever a death squad in Davao, describing it as fiction created by the media.
On Monday, Lascañas asserted that the Davao death squad was no myth and he was one of those who carried out secret killings of drug dealers and criminals at Duterte's behest.
"It is true, the Davao death squad, or DDS, really exists," Lascanas told reporters at the Senate in Manila.
"When Mayor Duterte sat down as mayor for the first time, we started what is called 'salvaging' of people, these people are suspects committing crime in Davao."
"We implemented the personal orders of Mayor Duterte to us."
Lascanas said he had decided his "obedience and loyalty" to Duterte must end and had promised God that he would confess.
He is the second man to go public with claims of involvement in murders allegedly ordered by Duterte, the hugely popular president nicknamed "the Punisher", whose ruthless approach to tackling crime has won public approval.
Lascañas claims have been referred to the Senate Committee on Public Order.
Meanwhile, Panelo said he has spoken with Duterte about Lascañas' revelations, and the President said "it’s part of the territory."
Though he said Lascañas may be prosecuted for perjury, personally, he would rather "ignore" him.
"From the inception of Mr. Duterte’s presidency, many have started, many have attempted to destroy him. They have not succeeded," he said.
"Sinister forces are all over to discredit, to besmirch this man, but the popularity keeps on rising. The more you destroy him, the more he becomes popular, and the people believe in him," he added.
Panelo asserted that the allegations Lascañas threw against Duterte are "politically motivated," noting that "these are old issues" against him which started when he was still mayor.
"This is what you call politically motivated, unlike the claim of Sen De Lima…From where I sit, that’s political. They want him out. They want to succeed," he said.
He also said the revival of the Davao Death Squad issue is part of a destabilization plot against Duterte's presidency, saying "there’s no other explanation” other than a certain party’s loss in the recent elections.
"They want him out. They don’t believe in him. They cannot accept their defeat. They can’t accept it," he said. With Reuters