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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This entry was posted in Human rights - Nhân quyền, Philippines and tagged , , , , , , by Trần Đình Hoành. Bookmark the permalink.

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam and still counsel VN government agencies on legal matters. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. In 2009 I founded and still manage dotchuoinon.com on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. In 2015 a group of friends and I founded website CVD - Conversations on Vietnam Development (cvdvn.net). I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.

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