VP Sara involved in “tokhang” formation, says ex-cop

Feb. 02, 2024
Photo from Inday Sara Duterte Facebook page

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – VP Sara Duterte allegedly approved and designed the “Oplan Tokhang” operation against drug users and dealers during her term as Davao City Mayor, which allegedly involved burying drug suspects.

This was revealed by retired Davao Senior Police Officer Arturo Lascañas, a key informant on the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.

Lascañas submitted his affidavit to the ICC in 2021, which included details of how the so-called Davao Death Squad operated during Rodrigo Duterte’s term as mayor in the 1990s until 2010. The former police chief confessed to having been involved in some of the killings, which he said in an interview with Vera Files numbered around 10,000 in Davao City alone.

His new information on Sara Duterte, detailed in Vera Files and also in a Zoom media interview on Wednesday, said Sara approved Oplan Tokhang with Davao City Police Director Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa in 2012.

Lascañas said dela Rosa informed him of the new operation which was approved by Sara and he said was different from the DDS operations that involved gunning down suspects on the streets.

“[Then]Colonel Dela Rosa told me that he will impose another police operation about drugs, not through DDS but through abduction, and use the Laud Quarry as mass graves. And it was approved by Sara Duterte when we talked personally – me, Sara Duterte, and (police officer) Sonny Buenaventura. Sara Duterte said: ‘Karaan na man nâ inyohang style kanang pusil. Kidnapa na lang nâ inyong target unya ilubong’ (Your style of shooting targets is passé. Just kidnap your target and then bury them),” Lascañas was quoted by Vera Files.

The retired police chief said that Sara opted for this method to reduce media scrutiny on death squad killings.

“No investigation could be conducted if there [were] no dead. No dead bodies, no evidence,” Lascañas said.

In his affidavit, the ex-cop also accused Rodrigo Duterte of involvement in drug operations in Davao while his son, Congressman Paulo “Pulong” Duterte, was involved in the shipment of shabu.

“Tokhang” is a combination of two Cebuano words, “toktok” (to knock) and “hangyo” (to plead). The Davao City version involves police officers searching for suspected drug dealers and criminals in their homes and calling them out to surrender.

When Rodrigo Duterte was president in 2016, Bato dela Rosa served as chief of the Philippine National Police and adopted the name “tokhang” for the police operations against illegal drugs, which was characterized by suspects being gunned down during police operations in houses and communities as police came up with the self-defense alibi.

The ICC is probing these cases which have killed around 6,000 according to police reports while human rights groups said the figures had reached 20,000 nationwide.

Sara Duterte responded to Lascañas’ claims with a statement released on Thursday, saying this is a “new script” from the police officer, and questioned its timing as news is circulating that the ICC is firming up its investigation on her father which may lead to his possible arrest to face trial.

“Bago ang script na ito. Sa mga taon na nagsilbi ako bilang Vice Mayor at Mayor ng Davao City, ni minsan ay hindi naugnay ang aking pangalan sa isyung ito,” her statement read.

(This is a new script. In my years serving as vice mayor and mayor of Davao City, never have I been linked to this issue.)

Sara reiterated the same challenge her father raised to those who have filed cases in the ICC to file their cases in the Philippine courts.

“Forcing the ICC to intervene in our judiciary system is an affront to our sovereignty…. Let’s not debate about this, I challenge the witnesses and those behind the filing of this case to file murder charges against me here in the Philippines,” the vice president said.

One of the lawyers representing the drug war victims, Kristina Conti, posted a reply on her social media account: “The best solution to the Dutertes’ dilemma and desperation actually is to cooperate with the ICC investigation – and formally register their denials in the court. To allow the truth be properly ventilated, to pay genuine respect to the victims of the gravest indignities during their time in power.” (davaotoday.com)

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