SENATOR Alan Peter Cayetano clashed with his colleagues as he grilled the “surprise witness” who linked President Rodrigo Duterte to summary killings in Thursday’s hearing of the Senate justice and human rights committee.
Cayetano, a staunch supporter of Duterte, raised the possibility that the testimony of the supposed ex-Davao Death Squad member was part of a plot of the erstwhile ruling Liberal Party to oust the President and install Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo in Malacañang.
Cayetano’s bid to downplay the testimony of Edgar Matobato led him to a verbal tussle with senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes 4th during the resumption of the Senate investigation on extrajudicial killings.
De Lima, head of the Senate committee, tried to stop Cayetano in his line of questioning and for consuming more than the allotted 10 minutes per senator to interrogate, but Cayetano argued that he should be allowed to “use his time.”
“I am not abusing my time, I am using my time,” Cayetano said when de Lima asked him to stop.
He also urged Matobato to name the person who asked him to testify before the Senate. But the witness declined to mention a name, saying he was concerned about the person’s safety.
Cayetano, Duterte’s running mate in the May elections, expressed his frustration over the committee’s failure to provide senators with a list of witnesses prior to the hearing, and for releasing supposedly misleading data on the number of deaths being linked to the Duterte administration.
Trillanes sought to declare Cayetano out of order for consuming more time than other senators while asking questions, noting that he was not even a member of the committee. At one point, Trillanes turned off Cayetano’s microphone when the latter would not stop talking.
Trillanes reminded his colleague that each member of the committee was given 10 minutes to question the witness but Cayetano talked for “more than one hour already.”
“I’d just like to inquire if there’s an ‘unli’ (unlimited) questioning allotted for a non-member of the committee? I believe we gave him more than an hour of a leeway for a non-member,” Trillanes said of Cayetano.
Cayetano and Trillanes argued until de Lima called for a two-minute break. De Lima called Cayetano out of order after he refused to be stopped from speaking.
Cayetano later complained that Trillanes was trash-talking to him, and to try to resolve the issue, de Lima asked Trillanes to transfer to another seat. It was Cayetano who moved to another seat, however.
In an interview with reporters, Cayetano described Matobato’s testimony as “100 percent lies.”
He said the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) had denied the existence of the death squad after it conducted public hearings in Davao, and that it even requested the Ombudsman to investigate the cases.
The final decision of the Office of the Ombudsman showed that “no evidence was gathered to support the killings attributed or attributable to the [death squad],” Cayetano said.
He noted that Matobato, who had been under the Justice department’s Witness Protection Program since 2014, had a proximity to de Lima, back when she was still Justice secretary.
Members of the Liberal Party including de Lima and Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th have previously denied any plan to oust the President through impeachment.
Robredo issued a statement saying the Liberal Party was offended by Cayetano’s claims. (See story on A3).
Robredo to benefit?
Cayetano asked Matobato if he knew who would benefit if the President was removed from office, but the witness was unable to respond immediately.
The senator noted that the witness could remember the names of persons who took part in the alleged summary executions that happened several years ago in Davao City, but could not even mention the name of the vice president.
“I’m asking about your (de Lima) motive, and the motive of your party in this hearing … I am testing whether (the witness is credible) or is this part of the Plan B of the Liberal Party to reclaim Malacañang,” Cayetano told de Lima.
Trillanes, in an interview after the hearing, said Cayetano should not claim politics as the motivation behind the allegations against the President.
“It’s very convenient to call everything as politically motivated, that is the refuge sometimes of the guilty,” he added.
Asked about the exchanges he had with Cayetano during the break, Trillanes said those were minor arguments better kept to themselves.