Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, is no stranger to controversy with a stream of vulgarities shared on international platforms to his name and his bloody crackdown on drugs which has been heavily criticised.
Still, the tag of murderer president is one that would be hard to live down by anybody, no matter how friendly they are with controversy.
How did the tag Murderer President come about?
On Monday, a retired Filipino policeman named Arthur Lascanas, sat alongside three prominent human rights lawyers and addressed the press, breaking down as he listed and described a series of murders in Davao city that he alleged to have committed with others while in a group that Duterte had assembled and ordered to kill either in a bid to eliminate critics or fight crime.
Arthur Lascanas, basically, alleged that President Rodrigo Duterte ran a death squad that killed many people while he was the mayor of the southern city of Davao.
The retired policeman listed a scary body count that included a journalist and a pregnant woman and even his own brothers. According to him, he had killed his two brothers, who were involved in drug trafficking, due to “blind loyalty” to Duterte as well as cash rewards.
“Whether we buried them (bodies) or dumped them at sea, we were always paid by Mayor Rody Duterte,”
One of Arthur Lascanas’ more chilling accounts of the activities of the death squad in the press conference saw him telling the story of how he and other policemen abducted a suspected kidnapper. According to him, they had also taken the suspected kidnapper’s seven-month pregnant wife, his four or five-year-old son, his son-in-law and two house helpers. In his words;
“Mayor Rody Duterte gave us the signal: “go ahead, clean them up,”
“In this case, evil prevailed. They killed the entire family in front of me, using a calibre .22 with silencer.”
President Rodrigo Duterte has been severally accused of running death squads when he was mayor of Davao but the words of Arthur Lascanas would be the first to allege any involvement in said death squads and then practically paint the picture of a murderer President.
The President has been very shaky in his denial or acceptance of his involvement in any death squad. He has both variously denied and confirmed the existence of a Davao death squad, and at a point claimed to have personally killed people to set an example for the police.
Presidential spokesman Martin Anadanar was, however, quick to reject all of Lascanas’s claims on Monday, writing in a statement;
“The press conference of self-confessed hitman Arthur Lascanas is part of a protracted political drama aimed to destroy the president and to topple his administration,”
The Presiden’s position is not helped by the fact that last year, a self-confessed hitman told a Senate inquiry that Arthur Lascanas was a leader of the Davao death squad that killed more than 1,000 people.
At the time, Arthur Lascanas was still a policeman and had denied any involvement with a death squad to the Senate inquiry. His change in testimony is happening after he retired from the police force in December. He said that his conscience pushed him to tell the truth about the death squads.
Amnesty International and some other international bodies have already decried President Duterte’s drug war, which has to date resulted in the death of over 6,500 people, as abusive to human rights and has said that the crackdown may amount to crimes against humanity.
With this still-evolving picture of death squads attributed to the murderer President, it is still hard to tell what the repercussions of Lascanas’testimony will be on the President both at home and internationally.