Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left), then mayor of Davao, inspects an assault rifle with Regional Police Chief Miguel Abaya (center) in the late 1980s. (Reuters/Renato Lumawag)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left), then mayor of Davao, inspects an assault rifle with Regional Police Chief Miguel Abaya (center) in the late 1980s. (Reuters/Renato Lumawag)

Ex-police official admits role in Filipino radio journalist’s murder

Bangkok, February 21, 2017–Former Philippine policeman Arturo Lascanas in a news conference yesterday acknowledged his role in the September 2003 assassination of radio journalist Juan “Jun” Pala, a crime he claimed was ordered and paid for by then Davao City mayor, now President Rodrigo Duterte.

Lascanas also said he was involved in a Davao City “death squad” that carried out extrajudicial killings on Duterte’s orders, according to news reports. The statements, made at a press conference at the Philippine Senate in Manila, reversed testimony Lascanas gave under oath last October in which he denied the existence of the death squads, media reports said.

“This is the real truth in the Pala murder case,” Lascanas was quoted as saying. “I am one of those who murdered him.” He said he was paid the equivalent of US $60,000 for the killing, the reports said.

“We call on authorities to reopen the investigation into the murder of Philippine radio broadcaster Juan ‘Jun’ Pala based on this new information,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Former policeman Arturo Lascanas’ allegations that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the killing should be taken seriously, fully investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Lascanas’ claims were consistent with previous testimony linking Duterte to Pala’s murder, news reports said. Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed assassin and Davao death squad member, told a Senate panel last October that Duterte ordered Pala killed for his critical radio commentaries, the reports said.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the allegations had been proven false by various independent agencies and called Lascanas’ remarks a “character assassination” and “vicious politics,” reports said. Duterte has consistently denied allegations that he ordered any extrajudicial killings or oversaw death squads while he served as Davao City’s mayor.

Pala, a radio commentator on DXGO radio in Davao City, was shot and killed while walking home with a bodyguard and a friend on September 6, 2003, CPJ reported at the time. He had survived a shooting attack that April, CPJ reported at the time. News reports at the time noted that his radio show was known for its fiery criticism of communist rebel groups and allegations of corruption.

Police had earlier attributed Pala’s killing to a communist rebel hit squad, though the case remains unsolved, reports said.

Duterte, speaking in July 2016 about “corrupt” journalists, cited Pala specifically, calling him a “rotten son of a bitch” and saying “he deserved it,” according to Philippine media reports. “Of course I know who killed him,” the Philippine broadcaster GMA News quoted him as saying. Duterte has, however, repeatedly denied playing any role in the journalist’s murder.