Catanduanes policeman recants testimony on drug war abuses

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 2) — In a turnaround of his previous testimony, a Catanduanes policeman recanted his statement last May saying the police ordered them to kill drug suspects.

At the Senate probe on the slay of teenagers in police operations Monday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson read aloud a letter from SPO1 Vincent Tacorda, who had tendered his resignation from his post in April.

"I have done some serious soul searchings and I have come to realize that I love my organization and I continue to hold it and its ranks in the highest respect despite some sad experiences I went through," Tacorda said in the letter dated July 3.

Lacson, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs conducting the probe, instructed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to summon Tacorda at the next hearing on October 10 to attest to his letter.

PNP Chief Dir. Gen. Ronald dela Rosa said Tacorda withdrew his earlier resignation and remains in active service. Dela Rosa however added Tacorda is facing charges as a suspect in the death of a journalist involved in a shabu laboratory raid in Catanduanes.

During the probe, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV brought up Tacorda's May 10 affidavit and video interview, which claimed there were no incidents of drug suspects being killed in police operations during the administration of former Pres. Benigno Aquino.

Tacorda's affidavit explained that as of July 2016, there was "pressure to deliver" as the provincial director of Catanduanes police, PSupt. Jesus Martirez, ordered him and another policeman to accomplish "5-10 deaths of drug personalities". If there is no "death of drug personalities" within their area, the provincial director would be relieved of his post.

Tacorda said he was given the name of his first target and was designated as shooter. He was also given a P800 budget for lodging, a photo of the target, and a folder with the words, "PUSHER AKO, HUWAG TULARAN… bicol vigilante."

"The operation was well-coordinated with the Chief of Police," Tacorda said in his affidavit.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier claimed his drug war did not start until two months after he sat in office since July 2016

READ: Duterte admits slow start to anti-drug drive

Duterte said that if drug suspects were killed early on his term, it would not have been due to police operations.

CBCP to protect 'whistleblowers'

In a statement issued Monday, the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said some "law enforcers" sought the help of the Church as they are ready to expose details on drug-related killings in the country.

CBCP said the "whistleblowers" met with Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP President, and other officials of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan to ask for succor and protection.

"They have expressed their desire to come out in the open about their participation in extrajudicial killings and summary executions. Their consciences are troubling them," Villegas said in the statement.

"If their preference is to stay with us in the Church, they will not be turned over to the State under its own witness protection program," he added.

Villegas, in previous statements, backed retired policeman Arturo Lascanas and self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, who revealed information on the so-called Davao Death Squad.

Sen. Grace Poe, who was at the probe, said she welcomed the willingness of the policeman to speak on their involvements on the alleged extrajudicial killings.

"These are positive developments we look forward to all for the sake of serving truth and justice to the victims and their families," Poe said in a statement.

Government data show over 3,800 suspects have been killed in anti-drug operations since July last year, but human rights groups claim the actual number of casualties could be thousands more.