‘Tokhang’ brains?

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

As of yesterday, the UniTeam tandem remained intact, although the unity was hanging by a flimsy thread.

Vice President Sara Duterte has said she is not resigning as education secretary, and the opinions of her father and brothers against the Marcoses are their own.

In Vietnam last Monday, President Marcos said his ties with VP Sara, his designated government caretaker in his absence, were “exactly the same” and she would stay on in the Department of Education.

A day, however, is a long time in Philippine politics.

On Wednesday, a former Davao City cop told journalists in a videoconference that Sara Duterte, when she was mayor of Davao City, was in fact the brains behind “Oplan Tokhang” in 2012.

Arturo Lascañas, who claims to have served as the lead hitman in the Davao Death Squad, said then mayor Sara had ordered Ronald dela Rosa, at the time the police chief of Davao City, to implement Tokhang while her brother Paolo Duterte was running a drug smuggling ring. Lascañas alleged that he gave “Pulong” Duterte and Dela Rosa a weekly payola of P150,000 and P50,000, respectively.

Lascañas claimed mayor Sara could be even more brutal than her father, whose Oplan Tokhang during his presidency led to the killing of thousands of drug suspects who allegedly resisted arrest or nanlaban.

In Inday Sara’s case, Lascañas claimed, she told Bato dela Rosa to simply kidnap drug suspects and bury them, instead of shooting them dead, so these would be reported as missing person cases and there would be fewer questions from the media.

Targets for execution, Lascañas alleged, were trailed through their home addresses and vehicle details provided by the local chief of the Land Transportation Office, who followed the orders of Rodrigo Duterte’s loyal aide-turned-senator Bong Go.

Lascañas claimed Sara sometimes had target practice near the victims’ mass graves at the Laud Quarry, together with her father’s Chinese adviser Michael Yang, the alleged facilitator of the anomalous multibillion-peso COVID supply deal awarded to Pharmally Pharmaceuticals at the height of the pandemic.

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Fearing for his life, Lascañas fled the country in 2017. In 2021, he submitted a 186-page affidavit to the International Criminal Court for its pre-trial investigation, detailing the operations of the Davao Death Squad. The Dutertes have consistently denied the existence of the DDS.

Lascañas also accused Rodrigo Duterte of maintaining shabu laboratories, one of which was disguised as a fish canning factory, and of keeping a collection of about 1,000 mostly unlicensed guns. Many were gifts from accused child sex trafficker Apollo Quiboloy, who allegedly brought in guns, parts and ammunition on his private jet.

The former president, who has accused President Marcos of being a cocaine addict, denied maintaining the shabu labs, and admitted he had a large collection of guns, but all of them licensed. Such gun collections are legal, Duterte said – which isn’t exactly true, since there are limits to the number of guns and firepower allowed for civilians. Maybe former presidents are exempted from the limits.

The Dutertes and their supporters have been denigrating Lascañas’ stories since he provided testimony about the Davao killings.

VP Sara is not the only one wondering why Lascañas has re-emerged (he also gave a long interview late last year) and implicated her for the first time.

“Bago ang script na ito (This is a new script),” the VP said yesterday.

She did not mention that Lascañas talked to journalists amid the exchange of accusations between her father and BBM about each other’s alleged drug abuse.

It also comes on the heels of unconfirmed reports that ICC members were in the Philippines late last year for an informal gathering of evidence and testimonies on the drug deaths when Duterte was president and, earlier, when he was swapping posts with his daughter as Davao mayor and vice mayor.

The ICC, responding to questions from Filipino journalists on whether it had sent personnel to the Philippines last year, would only say that it would give justice to victims of extrajudicial killings.

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Could Marcos 2.0 have anything to do with Lascañas’ recent interviews?

Whether or not this is true, certain quarters are hoping that the ongoing feud between the Marcos-Romualdez clans and the Dutertes will pave the way for accountability in the brutal war on drugs, and that the thousands who were victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) might yet get justice.

Some folks are also hoping that the whole truth might yet come out regarding a Customs broker’s testimony before the Senate that Pulong Duterte and a so-called Davao Group were behind the smuggling of tons of prohibited drugs into the country during the Duterte presidency.

Pulong resigned as Davao vice mayor amid the testimony of broker Mark Taguba (remember him?) that tended to link Pulong to drug deals. Taguba, through a lawyer, later apologized to Pulong.

In 2018, Pulong was cleared by the ombudsman together with VP Sara’s husband Manases Carpio of involvement in the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu through the Bureau of Customs.

On the political front, those who might be using the EJK issue and the drug war against the VP and her father should remember that Rodrigo Duterte actually promised in his bid for the presidency that he would use his brutal tactics in Davao against criminals to eradicate the drug scourge nationwide in six months.

Duterte campaigned on a platform of “kill, kill, kill.”

He won the presidency by a landslide. And he maintained his popularity all the way to his last day in office.

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