Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo has cast doubts on claims of self-confessed killer Edgar Matobato that he was a former member of the ”Davao Death Squad” and was involved in at least a thousand killings of suspected drug pushers, rapists, snatchers and Muslims on orders of then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Matobato, who was produced by Sen. Leila de Lima, a former chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, made the confession on Thursday before the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Prior to Matobato’s testimony, now-President Duterte had said he kills criminals and that he does not feel sorry about it because criminals deserve to die, including journalist Jun Pala who was critical of him.
“The charges are very serious but we should take [them]with a grain of salt. We don’t know for sure if he is telling the truth. We need to be very vigilant, discerning, and it is important for the truth to come out,” Robredo, a lawyer, told reporters on Friday.
“We can’t just accept everything,” she said.
Despite Matobato’s statements in a hearing before the Senate committee, the Vice President also on Friday said impeaching Duterte will bring more chaos to the country.
In the same hearing, defeated vice presidential candidate and Sen. Alan Cayetano accused the Liberal Party (LP) of which Robredo is a member of conspiring to unearth Matobato and eventually unseat Duterte from the presidency so that Robredo could take over.
Under the law, a sitting President is immune from civil and criminal charges during his or her tenure.
“The success of the Duterte administration is the success of the country. I hope that the impeachment [of Duiterte]won’t happen, and I don’t see it prospering. [When we undergo such process again, the situation will just get more chaotic]. We should just use our energies for something else that would be of help to the country,” Robredo also told reporters in a news conference held at her Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) office in Makati City (Metro Manila).
“I have always said that it is our obligation to support the President. But when I say that, it doesn’t mean that I will agree with him all the time. We may have our differences, but those differences won’t make me withdraw my support. He never took my differing opinions against me,” she said.
Robredo opposes restoration of death penalty and hero’s burial for former President Ferdinand Marcos.
“What I found offensive was Senator Cayetano implicating the LP and myself [in the alleged conspiracy]. It is very unfair because we [in the party]don’t even talk about the administration, and I wasn’t aware that a witness [in the person of Matobato]is about to testify. I don’t even know the witness. But the way Senator Cayeteno said it, it’s like we are on an operation to unseat the President so I could replace him. But I have a very good working relationship with President Duterte and he has wholeheartedly supported the needs of my office,” the Vice President pointed out.
She was referring to her role as the HUDCC chairman, a position that makes her a member of the Duterte Cabinet.
“Every chance I get, I tell the President that he can count on my support and that if he needs me to do something for him, he should not hesitate to call me,” Robredo said.
Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, also a Liberal Party member like the Vice President, pitched for an independent fact-finding commission composed of retired justices to investigate the reported extrajudicial killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad, as well as determine identities of the principals and perpetrators and the victims.
Lagman cited the Agrava Commission, Feliciano Commission and Melo Commission that had been created to probe high-profile cases.
The Agrava Commission investigated the assassination of former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on August 21, 1983.
An inquiry into the Oakwood mutiny on July 21, 2003 was conducted by the Feliciano Commission.
The revolt was led by the Magdalo group, which alleged perpetuation of military corruption during the Arroyo administration.
The Melo Commission looked into human rights violations, including extrajudicial and political killings, from 2004 to 2006 during the Arroyo administration.
The Agrava Commission was headed by Justice Corazon Agrava, the Feliciano Commission by Justice Florentino Feliciano and the Melo Commission by Justice Jose Melo.
“The inquiry must not be left to politicians whose motives could always be suspect despite their avowal of impartiality,” Lagman said in a statement.