MANILA — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has formally reopened its investigation into the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), after one of its alleged leaders, former police officer Arturo Lascañas, surfaced.
"Even if Lascañas' motive for implicating the former mayor in the Davao Death Squad has been put to question, especially by Senator (Manny) Pacquiao during the (March 6) Senate hearing, the testimony itself is too compelling and detailed to ignore," human rights commissioner Roberto Eugenio Cadiz said in a statement.
The CHR noted in 2015, prior to the change in administration, its chairperson Chito Gascon had declared that the commission will reopen its investigation on the alleged death squad.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power, Lascañas and Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman, have since surfaced to claim that some murders in Davao City were ordered by Duterte, Davao's mayor for about two decades.
Appearing before the Senate in separate instances, both Lascañas and Matobato claimed that Duterte ordered the killings of petty criminals, drug suspects, and even innocent people.
LAUD QUARRY BONES
The CHR also said it will take as evidence the human bones gathered from the Laud quarry in Ma-a, Davao City where some of the bodies of the DDS victims were allegedly dumped.
In 2009, the CHR, led by detained Senator Leila de Lima, launched an investigation into the alleged existence of the death squad.
De Lima personally went to Laud quarry to check on the allegations.
Three years after opening its probe on the DDS, the CHR in 2012 confirmed the "systematic practice of extrajudicial killings" by the alleged death squad.
In turn, the commission succeeded in getting the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate whether Duterte was criminally liable for inaction in the face of evidence of numerous killings.
The Ombudsman, however, failed to connect Duterte to the death squad, charging instead 21 policemen with neglect of duty and fining them a month's worth of salary.
The CHR explained, the commission made no mention of the bones found in the quarry in its 2012 resolution due to a case filed by the quarry's owner questioning the validity of the warrant utilized in collecting the evidence.
The Supreme Court upheld the legality of the warrant in 2014, the CHR noted, “thereby also paving the presentation in evidence of the human bones recovered from the quarry.”
“The testimonies of Matobato and Lascañas, with the latter positively identifying the recovery site as their dumping ground, are sufficient basis to continue the investigation on the DDS,” the CHR said.
Duterte’s allies have downplayed Matobato and Lascañas’ testimonies, saying the credibility of the two witnesses are questionable. Duterte has also branded Lascañas’ testimonies as lies.