VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte cleared of involvement in the Davao Death Squad?

Amid issues involving his relationship with the media, PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar will no longer be speaking for the president and was tasked to attend to organizational matters instead. (Photo from PCOO)

Shortly after self-confessed hitman Arturo Lascañas pinned then Davao City mayor now president Rodrigo Duterte as mastermind of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), Communications Secretary Martin Andanar belied this claim.

Duterte has been cleared in government probes of any involvement in the death squad, Andanar said.

Lascañas’ narrative is but a part of a “protracted political drama aimed to destroy the president,” he added in a Feb. 20 statement.


“The Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Senate Committee on Justice already cleared the president of extrajudicial killing and his involvement in the Davao Death Squad.”

(Source: Statement of Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on the Senate press conference of alleged Davao Death Squad member SPO3 Arthur Lascañas)


None of the three offices mentioned by Andanar has cleared the president of any involvement in the vigilante group.

The Senate Committee on Justice, in a 141-page report on extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs, said in December that “there is no evidence sufficient to prove that a Davao Death Squad exists,” or that “then Mayor Duterte was responsible for those deaths purportedly committed by a Davao Death Squad.”

This pronouncement was prompted by surprise witness and former hitman Edgar Matobato’s confession that he reported directly to the president when he was still mayor of Davao City in the mid-1990s.

However, with the recent confession of Lascañas, 10 senators voted to reopen the case. The Senate is set to conduct a public inquiry and investigation on Lascañas confession on March 6.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has also refuted Andanar’s claim in a press statement on Feb. 21.

“The CHR wishes to stress that in its Resolution, entitled “Extra-Judicial Killings Attributed or Attributable to the so-called Davao Death Squad,” issued last 28 June 2012, the Commission did not clear the former mayor of Davao City of extrajudicial killings and his alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad.”

(Source: CHR refutes Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar’s pronouncement that the CHR cleared President Duterte)

The 2012 resolution concluded that there was a systematic practice of extrajudicial killings attributable to the DDS, holding the group accountable for 206 deaths from 2005 to 2009. Of this number, 157 were shot and 36 stabbed. The killings were selective, with 107 of the victims having records that link them to illegal activities, the CHR reported.

Although it said there was little evidence to prove complicity between the police and local government officials, the CHR decried the lack of a meaningful investigation on the killings and urged the Ombudsman to probe then mayor Duterte’s possible administrative and criminal liability for his inaction.

“(W)hile Mayor Duterte may claim that any government official involved with the so-called DDS would be doing so on his own, the fact remains that officials of the PNP (Philippine National Police) have noticed the volume and pattern of the killings, to which Mayor Duterte seems to have paid no attention or has chosen to ignore and not have investigated,” the resolution read.

The Ombudsman in 2016 closed and terminated the Davao Death Squad case for lack of evidence, even as it penalized in 2012 a total of 21 cops for their neglect of duty in connection with the killings.

The case was prompted by a complaint from a civilian who claimed that the vigilante group was responsible for at least 800 unsolved killings, and that police officers were directly involved in the murders.

Citing statistics from the Davao City police, the Ombudsman said the number of killings spiked from 2005 to 2008. The killings were committed within the jurisdiction of the police officers who were fined.

However, the case will be reopened after Matobato filed last December a criminal complaint against Duterte for possible violations of Republic Act No. 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity, said Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang in multiple news reports.

VERA Files has sought the Office of the Ombudsman for the status of the probe, but the latter hasn’t replied.


CHR 2012 Resolution on Extrajudicial Killings Attributed or Attributed to the So-called Davao Death Squad Ombudsman may reopen Davao Death Squad probe

ABS-CBN News: Ombudsman to reopen Davao Death Squad probe Ombudsman to revive probe on DDS

Office of the Ombudsman: Ombudsman Morales penalizes 21 PNP officers over Davao Death Squad

Commission on Human Rights: CHR refutes Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar’s pronouncement that the CHR cleared President Duterte


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