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MANILA, Philippines — A retired police officer who linked Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte to hundreds of extrajudicial killings in a local anti-drug crackdown says he's ready to testify in court and help authorities gather evidence of the slayings he says he and other paid assassins carried out.
Arturo Lascanas said Thursday that the deadly campaign he and others allegedly carried out on orders of Duterte when he was mayor of Davao city were "95 percent" similar to the bloody anti-drug crackdown now unfolding across the Philippines.
Lascanas confessed to being part of a "death squad" under Duterte, but said he did not fear for his safety, and believed four other members of his alleged hit team would come forward to testify.
In an interview at a safe house, Lascanas, 56, told Reuters news agency that he felt safer and at ease after publicly admitting his role in what he said were more than 200 extrajudicial killings in Davao when Duterte was obsessed with wiping out crime.
Lascanas linked Duterte to the Davao killings in testimony at a Senate inquiry this week. Duterte has not replied in detail but has denied condoning unlawful killings.
"I'm happy because I know there would still be others who will come forward after me to reveal the killings in Davao," said the second member of the so-called "Davao death squad" to testify at Senate inquiries.
Human rights groups documented about 1,400 suspicious killings in Davao during the 22 years Duterte was mayor and critics say the eight-month-old war on drugs he unleashed as president bears the same hallmarks.
That crackdown has seen 8,000 people killed, a third in police operations. Police deny involvement in the other killings, for which many have an assassination-style pattern.
"Nothing is impossible with God. I feared God but not him," Lascanas said of the president.
"I'm confident and happy now because I have done what I have to do, telling all of you what I have done. I may not be saved, but God will take care of me."
Lascanas, a policeman for more than three decades, in his sworn affidavit detailed at length several incidents in which the death squad had carried out killings of suspected criminals.
On Thursday, he said there was mistrust among those involved in those alleged incidents since he went public last month and they feared they might be "erased."
"I know some people in my group — two former policemen and two civilians — who may be thinking of making public confessions like me, because they feel they will be safer coming out than being 'erased' if they hide in the shadows," he said.
Duterte has denied ordering summary executions, either as president or as mayor. His police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, a former Davao City police commander, says the death squad is "fiction."
The credibility of Lascanas has been challenged repeatedly because he denied under oath in September that the death squad existed. That was a lie, he said, that weighed heavily on him, so he confessed to a priest and gave the clergyman an 81-page journal about his murders.
He said he feared for his family's safety after an attempted kidnapping of his son in December and his daughter, a nurse, reported suspicious men were watching her home.
"Everything's a gamble now," Lascanas said. "...I've already conditioned my family to accept whatever happens to me."