MANILA –Senators who voted against opening a probe into the new testimony of retired SPO3 Arthur Lascañas –alleged head of the so-called vigilante group Davao Death Squad –on Wednesday said that the move was a “slap in the face” to the Senate.
Among them was Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice, who previously led the Senate probe into the alleged extrajudicial killings last year. His committee report later ruled out any proof of a death squad and state-sponsored killings.
In the previous hearing on October 2016, Lascañas denied the existence of a death squad. However, on Monday (February 20), the retired cop retracted his first testimony and claimed that there was indeed a death squad hired to kill criminals and non-criminals in Davao City.
“It’s not a slap in the face to Dick Gordon, it’s a slap in the face to the Senate,” Gordon said in a privilege speech noting that the results of the committee report could have been different had Lascañas told the truth the first time.
“We cannot allow the Senate to be a cockpit of lies. No one should be allowed to trifle with the Senate,” he added noting that the Senate is no longer the proper forum for Lascañas’ new testimony.
Gordon said Lascañas should instead testify in the Ombudsman.
“I will not hear this man (in the Senate). I will recommend him, ‘Go to the Ombudsman’. Unless there is new evidence, the Senate can refer it again to whatever committee they see fit,” the senator said.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who was absent when the voting took place, said that he has not made up his mind to open the probe on Lascañas’ testimony but agreed with Gordon to let Lascañas testify at the Ombudsman.
“I have not made up my mind. A part of me wants to hear his testimony because they are all lies anyway, but another part of me is saying ‘why waste time on this?’” Cayetano said.
Cayetano said that the Senate should also respect the chair, Gordon, who should make the decision.
“We can go back to the tradition of the Senate which is we talk to the chair and we allow the chair to decide. If we do not have faith in our chairman, have the courage to say, ‘Sen. Dick, we do not have confidence in you’,” he added.
Neophyte senator Manny Pacquiao, for his part, said that if Lascañas would be allowed to testify in the Senate a second time, it would seem like the basis to allow source persons who have lied without being punished.
“If we would allow him to testify, it’s going to be a basis that a witness can lie and change his testimony,” Pacquiao said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, however, disagreed with Pacquiao and said that the Senate is not “powerless” because they had the power to cite Lascañas in contempt to send a strong signal that “the Senate cannot be lied to.”
“I agree that we should not lie and that’s precisely why we want to know the truth. I think we should proceed and find out the truth, Pangilinan, one of the senators who voted to proceed with the probe, said.
Poe, who was also absent when the voting took place, pointed out that she agreed that Lascañas should not be given the benefit to lie to the Senate again but said that his testimony should be heard not for his benefit, but for the benefit of the public.
“Making him come here to speak is not for the benefit of this person. I believe that making him come here to speak is also for the benefit of those of us who would like to know what made him change his mind and why he is doing so,” Poe said.
Ten out of 24 senators voted to proceed with the probe. Aside from Pangilinan, senators who also voted to proceed were Senate Pres. Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Francis Escudero, Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Ralph Recto, Antonio Trillanes and Joel Villanueva.
Meanwhile, seven senators voted against proceeding with the probe namely Sen. President Aquilino Pimentel III, senators Gordon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Gringo Honasan, Manny Pacquiao, Cynthia Villar and Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Five senators abstained namely Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senators Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Panfilo Lacson and Loren Legarda.
Two senators were absent –Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Grace Poe.
Sotto moved to refer both Gordon’s and Cayetano’s speeches to the Senate Committee on Rules to study further the points they raised.
The Senate probe into Lascañas’ testimony was previously referred to the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs which is chaired by Lacson.
Lacson, in an interview, said that he understood Gordon’s sentiment noting that it was a ‘double slap in the face’ to not only reopen the probe but also transfer it to a different committee.
“I abstained because I don’t want to project that I am too enthusiastic to proceed with the hearing at at the same time I don’t want to be rude to Sen. Gordon,” Lacson said.