Duterte: Davao Death Squad formed vs. NPA during Martial Law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — No less than President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

But Duterte remained firm he was not the leader of the vigilante group, that allegedly killed criminals in Davao City during his term as mayor.

In a speech in Malacañang on Tuesday, Duterte said the DDS existed during the 1970s, when former President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. Duterte was first elected mayor of Davao City in 1988.

"It was organized to combat the, 'yung SPARU noon sa Davao. You can ask the people, the old guys there. It was then known as the DDS Martial Law," Duterte said.

He was referring to the New People's Army's Special Partisan Unit (SPARU), a hit squad of the communist rebels in Southern Mindanao.

The President's recent statement, however, was a complete turnaround from his statement in May 2015, when he denied the existence of the DDS.

"Walang DDS diyan. Davao Development System yan that is my guiding principle. Ako yung DDS - Davao Development System - hindi yung Davao, ano nga yun? Davao Death Squad," Duterte said.

[Translation: "There no DDS there. That's Davao Development System, my guiding principle. I am the DDS - Davao Development System - not the Davao, what's that again? Davao Death Squad."]

Retired SPO3 Arturo Lascañas testified in a Senate hearing Monday that he was a hitman for DDS, having killed at least 200 people allegedly under orders from then Mayor Duterte.

Lascañas' latest testimony contradicts his statements during a previous senate hearing in October 2016. In that hearing, he said the DDS did not exist.

The 2016 senate hearing was an investigation on extrajudicial killings and the involvement of the DDS. After that series of hearings, the Senate earlier concluded that there's still no proof that the DDS exists.

In that hearing, Lascañas said another senate witness--Edgar Matobato, also a self-confessed DDS member--was not telling the truth. Senators agreed, saying Matobato's testimony was riddled with lies and inconsistencies.

On Tuesday, Duterte belied Lascañas' claims in a chance interview with reporters.

"I need not do that... I will not create a DDS, may police department ako (I have a police department)," Duterte said.

As early as 2009, international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the attention of the Philippines in a report, pointing out that there were 124 targeted killings in Davao City from 1998 to 2008 alone, when Duterte was mayor.

CNN Philippines' digital producers Eimor Santos and Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.