(UPDATED) -- After being mum about the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), President Rodrigo Duterte finally admitted on Tuesday that the vigilante group exists.
But he said he did not create it, as alleged by former Davao policeman and self-confessed DDS member Arturo Lascañas.
“I did not do that. I do not need that. I did not create an air force. I have an airforce. I will not create a DDS. I have police department,” he said.
Duterte pointed to Serafin "Jun" Ledesma Jr., a columnist of SunStar Davao, as the person who has knowledge about the vigilante group because "he was part of" the group.
“Ask Jun Ledesma, he’s also a journalist too from Davao. He would give you the history. Well, I do not want to sound apologetic. You just ask him. He’s a columnist of Sunstar Davao. He will be the right person because he was part of it actually,” Duterte said.
Duterte said the DDS was created to fight the Special Partisan Unit (SPARU), a hit squad of Guerilla Front 55 of the New People’s Army (NPA) Southern Mindanao Regional Committee that operated in the hinterlands of Bukidnon and Davao del Norte provinces.
“If you really ask, I’m not into excuses. No apologies but you should learn more about DDS. It was organized to combat the SPARU in Davao. You can ask the people, the old guys here. It was then known the DDS Martial law," Duterte said.
In his column "Of extrajudicial killing and extramarital affair" published in SunStar Davao on August 25 and last year, Ledesma said the death squad was a "ghost squad conceptualized by then INP Regional Commander Dionisio Tan-Gatue Jr. to counter the offensive of the dreaded NPA Sparrows" (liquidation squad).
He said that "in those times, Duterte had just passed the bar and was a Tanodbayan investigator and later became Assistant City Fiscal."
In another column published on Dec. 28, 2016, Ledesma said Duterte was still studying law in San Beda when DDS was created. He said the allegation that Duterte created the death squad is a "blatant lie."
Ledesma, in an interview with SunStar Davao said "What (President) Duterte is saying... I'm part of the history of Davao not DDS. I've seen how and what developed in the past. If you want to know about DDS, I've actually wrote a column about it.
Lascañas, who testified before a Senate inquiry Monday, linked Duterte and his men to nearly 200 killings that the death squad allegedly carried out in Davao City.
In a previous press conference, Lascañas alleged that Duterte paid the death squad between P20,000 and P100,000 to kill criminals and his rivals when he was still the Davao City mayor.
Meanwhile, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald Dela Rosa refused to comment on the claims of Lascañas.
"No comment," he said, when asked to validate Lascañas' claims that they worked together in the killing of Davao's most wanted person identified as Felicisimo Cunanan Jr. and in the abduction and slay of suspected terrorist Sali Makdum.
"Ipapaubaya muna natin sa Senado dahil ongoing ang investigation. Kung ipapatawag naman ako doon, mahirap ma-preempt ang investigation (Let's not preempt the Senate investigation. I might be summoned by the Senate)," Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa, who served as Davao City police chief from 2012 to 2013, admitted knowing Lascañas whom he described as an "ordinary policeman."
When he first appeared last year before the Senate inquiry on the alleged extrajudicial killings by the DDS, Lascañas denied the claims of DDS hitman Edgar Matobato that Duterte created the vigilante group composed mostly of policemen tasked to kill suspected criminals in Davao.
Last month, or two months after he retired from police service, Lascañas recanted his testimony and said in a press conference that the death squad exists.
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