Philippine death squad whistleblower Arturo Lascanas flees to Singapore

Former officer has been in hiding since he revealed the workings of Davao death squads run by now-president Rodrigo Duterte

Arturo Lascanas in his safe house in Manila.
Arturo Lascanas in his safe house in Manila. Photograph: Kate Lamb for the Guardian

After months of living in hiding, Arturo Lascanas – a former police officer who accused Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte of orchestrating a decades-long campaign of death squads and lawless murder – has fled to Singapore.

The retired 56-year-old officer is a self-confessed member of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), a group he alleges was formed in the late 1980s by then mayor Rodrigo Duterte, to kill hardened criminals, drug dealers and political opponents.

Lascanas has been hiding since his dramatic revelations, but managed to leave the country on Saturday night on a Tiger Airways flight to Singapore.

“I have received threats that a lawsuit would be filed against me, and there are also people looking for me as well,” Lascanas told local reporters before he departed.

For months Lascanas has been holed up in a safe house in Manila, living under protective guard, unable to go outside. Now with the looming lawsuit, he said it was time to leave the Philippines for the “time being”.

When he presented at immigration on Saturday evening, one of the most wanted men in the country was told to take a seat, but fifteen minutes later his passport was stamped. Immigration authorities said there was no travel ban, or hold departure, so Lascanas was permitted to leave.

“Mr Lascanas did not have any immigration lookout bulletin order or hold departure order issued against him that could have delayed or prevented his departure,” said immigration spokesperson Antonette Mangrobang, “Hence he was cleared to depart.”

After denying the claims of the DDS in a Senate hearing last October, Lascanas made a stunning turnaround this February, telling the Senate in a second hearing that he had been forced to lie, and worried for the safety of his family if he had divulged the truth.

When the Guardian met Lascanas in his safe house this March, the former officer claimed that decades of extrajudicial killings in Davao weighed on his conscience and he had decided that he didn’t want to take his sins to the grave.

Rodrigo Duterte was mayor of Davao, a city on the southern island of Mindanao, for more than two decades before winning the presidency last May on a promise to rid the country of drugs and crime.

The drug war that has ensued has sparked deep alarm among the international community, with more than 7,000 people killed in police operations and by so-called vigilantes since last July.

After undergoing kidney surgery and a spiritual awakening, Lascanas said he felt compelled to tell the truth about the death squads of Davao, a methodology he claims has been scaled up nationwide under the president’s current war on drugs.

The Duterte administration has vehemently denied the claims, describing the DDS as a “creation of the media,” and Lascanas’ claims as part of a plot to unseat the government.

This is reportedly the first time Lascanas has left the Philippines. He showed immigration he had a return ticket, leaving Singapore on 22 April, but it is unclear if and when he will return.

“I am sure, I might either be jailed or killed. It’s just one of the two possibilities,” he told the Inquirer from the city state, “But for me, I know God has a plan and that would be my destiny for telling the truth. I have accepted that.”

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