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Pacquiao rakes Lascanas' credibility; Hontiveros backs retraction

Senator Manny Pacquiao quizzes Arturo Lasca�±as (in inset) at the legislative inquiry into the Davao Death Squad. Photographed by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon
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MANILA - Senator Manny Pacquiao on Monday chastised retired police officer Arturo Lascañas during the Senate inquiry for his turnaround allegation that then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte masterminded the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS).

Pacquiao pounced on Lascañas' pronouncement, which directly contradicted his own testimony in October 2016, where he and other flatly denied the existence of DDS.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, however, pointed out that the Blue Ribbon Committee itself, under the chairmanship of Senator Richard Gordon in 2009, saw the value in testimony made after its source had recanted.

Pacquiao pointed out that Lascañas took an oath to tell the truth in October 2016, and again during Monday's hearing, but had, nevertheless, given contradictory statements.

Pacquiao noted that, in the October 2016 inquiry, Lascañas deposed that he had "never" been ordered by Duterte to kill anyone, and that he pitied the inquiry's witness Edgar Matobato – who had claimed Lascañas was a DDS hit man – as he was just being used.

"Dito ba hindi ka nagamit (Aren't you being used now)?" Pacquiao asked Lascañas, alluding to his reversal and throwing his own words back at him.

Lascañas denied he was being used or exploited.

Lascañas explained that he decided to change his testimony because he wanted to clear his conscience, and had made a promise to God to "faithfully repent".

Pacquiao pressed on, inquiring if anyone had talked to Lascañas to convince him to recant. Lascañas said there was none.

Some time in February, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV hosted a press conference where Lascañas made the surprise turnaround revelation that DDS, indeed, existed, and that Duterte ordered the killings that the squad carried out.

At Monday's hearing, Pacquiao asked Lascañas if he had been paid for his testimony.

Lascañas said he wasn't.

"Ano bang paniwalaan dito, 'yung unang testimony mo o itong testimony na 'to (Which testimony should we believe, the first one or this one)?" Pacquiao asked.

Lascañas answered that it should be this one, to which, Pacquiao retorted that, if he were to be asked a third and a fourth time, Lascañas would likely say that it would have to be the latest that should be believed.

"Sino ang magpapatunay sa testimony mo ngayon (Who will attest to your testimony now)?" Pacquiao asked.

Lascañas replied that his involvement in DDS, and the fact that he was putting his loved ones at risk, should be proof enough, to which Pacquiao observe that, when it came to money, people would put even their families in danger.

'Spiritual renewal'
Lascañas further explained that in July 2015, when he underwent dialysis for the first time, and believed himself to be dying, he had confessed to a priest.

But Pacquiao wasn't convinced, as Lascañas gave supposedly false testimony anyway, after that, in October 2016.

Senator Panfilo Lacson remarked that "something doesn't add up."

So, what kind of "spiritual renewal" did he go through if he brought himself to tell a lie and sin against God afterwards? Lacson asked.

Lascañas said he told a lie because he was concerned about his family's safety and security, but Lacson pointed out that there was no difference between October 2016 and the present situation, since Duterte was still the sitting president.

Lascañas reasoned that his July 2015 confession was made because he believed he was dying of kidney disease at the time.

Senator Risa Hontiveros came to Lascañas' rescue, pointing out a precedent during the 2009 Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the fertilizer fund scam, where the committee chair at the time, Richard Gordon, accepted the recantation of fertilizer supplier Feshan Phils. Inc. President Julie Gregorio, who earlier deposed that she sold the fertilizer at P600 per bottle, but later testified that she had really sold them at P150, but passed them on as P1,500 each.

Hontiveros cited Gordon as saying that based on Gregorio's admission about the true cost of the fertilizer, it was proven that only a small portion of the fertilizer fund actually went to the purchase of fertilizers.

The committee deemed the second testimony worthy because it contained the truth.

(Read more about this incident in The Philippine Star's archive here:

But Senator Vicente Sotto cited a 2013 proceeding at the Supreme Court, pointing out that the high court "looks with disfavor upon affidavits of recantation."

To this, Hontiveros gave the rejoinder that the Senate, being a separate and co-equal branch of government, has its own "sense and wisdom" in this situation, which was valuable, too.

Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Chair Lacson adjourned the inquiry for lack of probative value that can be obtained from the Lascañas testimony, saying there was no point in pursuing the alleged existence of DDS in the light of the Lascañas flipflop on the matter. "There was nothing more you could extract."

"That's it, Lacson said. (With a report by Ernie Reyes, InterAksyon)