More questions than answers – Lascanas retraction, EDSA people power, Duterte’s ouster

Update: Hours after this post was published, the Senate through a vote of 10 Senators in favor against 7 who opposed, to refer Sen Trillanes’ motion to re-open the hearings on the Davao Death Squad to the Committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Sen Lacson. The Senate will then meet again to discuss on how to handle Sen Trillanes’ resolution.

Yesterday, in a press conference at the Senate, lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group and Sen Antonio Trillanes IV accompanied former police officer SPO3 Arthur Lascanas where he made public the confession that the ‘Davao Death Squad’ was real, he was its leader and former Davao City Mayor now President Rodrigo Duterte was behind the DDS.

A complete turnaround of his previous testimony in a Senate investigation into the Davao Death Squad back in September 2016, that, at that time, he belied the testimony of self-confessed DDS member Edgar Matobato.

Media reports say that ‘in genral‘, Lascanas and Matobato’s testimonies match.

First question that comes to mind: Why has Lascanas retracted his earlier testimony? For sure, his lawyers from FLAG has advised that he will expose himself to perjury charges, not to mention earn the ire of Duterte’s loyal supporters. What made him change his tune? Was he being pressured back in September to deny the existence of the Davao Death Squad? Who was putting the pressure?

Will the Senate re-open its investigation into the Davao Death Squad? Sen Trillanes has already filed a resolution to do so, yet Sen Dick Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee Justice and Human rights which conducted the September investigation has given the thumbs down. For him, this matter should now be brought to before the courts.

Which brings us to the next question, can Duterte be sued for the alleged serious crimes before he became President? In other words, would Presidential immunity necessitate his impeachment first, before he can be properly charged for the murders that the so-called Davao Death Squad committed thru his orders?

This brings to mind a discussion on the Presidential or executive immunity by constitutional expert Fr Joaquin Bernas, SJ where he cited landmark cases decided by the US Supreme Court that dealt with its limits. He then moved on to a similar case closer to home: the prosecution of former President Joseph Estrada for the alleged plunder during his term, and whether he still had immunity after he has be removed from office since the alleged crimes took place while he was President. Our own Supreme Court ruled against Estrada but I don’t think it squarely applies to Duterte’s case as the allegations: murder of which he was allegedly the mastermind, are criminal offenses that took place before he became President. It seems this issue will also end up before the Supreme Court.

Going back to the impeachment of Duterte, this will not happen, yet, as he still enjoys the support of the supermajority in the Lower House. Who knows, the ever-reliable Lozano may yet again beat everyone to the punch by filing an impeachment case only to be rejected by Duterte’s allies in Congress giving the President another year of being shielded from impeachment.

What about extra-constitutional means of removing Duterte from power? Talk is ripe about a planned ouster of President Duterte that will coincide with the upcoming celebration of the EDSA People Power’s 31st anniversary. Would this happen? Is this the reason why this year’s program of commemorating the EDSA revolution has been toned down by the Palace and held within the safe walls of Camp Aguinaldo?

And what does Sec Martin Andanar knows that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana doesn’t that he’s the only government official that’s been vocal about these so-called plans of removing Duterte from the Presidency? The press has already had its field day with Sec Andanar regarding this issue, yet the question still stands: what is the basis for his claims?

Or is this the administration’s tactic of handling the recent retraction and accusation of Lascanas? For now, we don’t know if what he has told yesterday at the Senate, that Duterte was behind the Davao Death Squad after all, or is just really another push by those who want Duterte out of power?

The lawyers from FLAG, now the laywers of Lascanas, are battle-tested lawyers for justice, human rights and accountability. They would not take on Lascanas if they think he doesn’t have the goods or he is not credible.

What will happen next? Only time will tell.

Image by ABS-BCN News

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