PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is emerging unscathed from accusations he had ordered the killings of crime suspects and other individuals when he was mayor of Davao City, analysts said on Friday.
Political science Professor Edmund Tayao made the observation after self-described hitman Edgar Matobato claimed before a Senate inquiry that Duterte was behind the “Davao Death Squad” that killed, and sometimes mutilated, 1,000 people from 1988 to 2013.
Duterte’s critics have to come up with weightier allegations, considering that the President’s crime-fighting background is already public knowledge, said Tayao of the University of Santo Tomas.
The President also enjoys huge public support, he said.
“They have to come up with other accusations against the President. He has been telling people that he has been killing people left and right, that is public knowledge. There has to be more incriminating support to douse cold water on the people’s support for Duterte,” Tayao told The Manila Times.
On social media, De La Salle University political science professor Antonio Contreras said: “The public has
spoken. An overwhelming majority considers the witness Matobato incredible.”
In a Facebook post, Contreras drew a parallel between the ongoing Senate inquiry led by Sen. Leila de Lima and previous investigations which he said were instigated by the erstwhile ruling Liberal Party (LP) against its opponents.
“You see, this is no longer about truth but about politics and perceptions. LP perfected this art when it deployed its full powers and even recruited the Ombudsman, the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue), and COA (Commission on Audit) in humiliating [Chief Justice] Renato Corona,” he said.
“That was just a dress rehearsal. They did it again to the front-running [Vice President Jejomar] Binay, enabling the dark horse Duterte to blindside them,” he added.
Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform however said it was still difficult to say whether the latest allegations would have an effect on Duterte.
But Thursday’s Senate inquiry marked the end of the “honeymoon period” usually extended to a new President, he said.
Credibility in question
Tayao said the inquiry’s effect on Duterte depended on the witness, Matobato, whose testimony had been described as inconsistent by some senators, notably Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief.
“He (Matobato) has been vetted, there is some truth to what he said, but the result of the questioning of Senator Lacson tells a lot already, not to mention those who are handling him such as [Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th] who has a penchant for bringing in whistleblowers but never really gained popularity,” Tayao said.
Casiple said Matobato’s inclusion in the witness protection program (WPP) of the Department of Justice affected his credibility.
This was because Matobato was admitted to the WPP when de Lima, the head of the Senate justice committee conducting the inquiry, was Justice department secretary, he said.
Matobato left the program after sensing that Duterte would win the May 9 presidential elections.
Lacson questioned on Friday fellow Senator de Lima for seemingly accepting the testimony of Matobato as “gospel truth.”
“Being committee chair, you handle the witness, you brief the witness but don’t make it look like you believe what he says hook, line and sinker, you take it as gospel truth. That’s not right,” Lacson said.
He said he did not get to ask as many questions as he wanted during the Senate hearing where Matobato was
present, because he lost interest in the manner in which it was conducted.
“I lost interest in asking questions,” Lacson said, adding that Matobato’s testimony sounded too dramatic to him.
In Malacañang, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo also questioned the credibility of Matobato.
Panelo called Matobato as a “perjured witness,” saying his statements against President Duterte were “all lies.”
“The fact alone that he was with the [Department of Justice’s] Witness Protection Program for how many years, two, three years, he should have said all these things before. Why only now?” he said.