The Senate inquiry into the drug killings and the drug war of President Duterte may be nearing its end. Sen. Richard Gordon, the substitute chairman of the Senate committee on justice, has announced that the committee will soon wrap it up and later proceed to write its committee report.
Two senators, Antonio Trillanes and Leila De Lima, who were the most gung-ho about the inquiry, got livid over the rush. Trillanes charged that the hurry with which the committee seeks to close the probe constitutes a cover-up on behalf of the administration. De Lima, for her part, claimed that it was a “travesty” that the Senate will abandon the probe.
But the two may only have themselves to blame for the turn of events.
When the Senate decided to conduct the inquiry, it was on the strength of a resolution filed by Sen. de Lima, which cited the need for the chamber to conduct an investigation into the drug killings that had roused so much concern in the country and abroad.
Sen. de Lima, as the first chair of the justice committee, was expected to steer the inquiry with prudence and probity, and in a non–partisan manner.
Instead of an earnest effort to establish the facts about the drug war, de Lima took the inquiry south. The probe initially focused on hearing from the families of victims of the killings, a bunch of whom went to the Senate hooded and in elaborate disguises, to dramatize their personal sense of security.
It was too much drama to sustain; so Senator Panfilo Lacson briefly took over the inquiry.
De Lima, however, was not done yet. After a two-week hiatus, she returned to chair the hearing again – and this time she came armed with a blockbuster plot twist.
She decided on her own, and with the apparent participation of Senator Trillanes, to direct the inquiry into an entirely new direction – to investigating killings that happened in Davao City during the time of Presiden Duterte when he was still the city’s mayor.
De Lima unveiled a new witness by the name of Edgar Matobato, who proceeded under de Lima’s questioning to relate how he had been a member of the so-called Davao Death Squad, which was allegedly organized by then mayor Duterte and assassinated or murdered scores of criminals and drug suspects in the city.
The grizzled witness testified to having personally witnessed and participated in the killings, and having heard DU30 order the killings.
Matobato‘s testimony was zealously probed for holes by Senate allies of the President. They pinpointed inconsistencies in the witness’ recollection of events that were supposed to have happened from 1988-2013.
The sensational turn was too much for the Senate to bear. The country’s senators collectively decided to strip de Lima of her chairmanship of the justice committee, and transferred the responsibility instead to Sen. Richard Gordon.
All should have been well from there on, but the probe ran into more rough seas. Matobato was called again to testify.
Gordon made an effort to call to the inquiry police officials whom Matobato had named. But the new witnesses uniformly declared that there was no such thing as the Davao Death Squad, and that they did not know Matobato.
In the middle of the final hearing, Matobato went missing. And then Senator De Lima walked out.
Watching the inquiry unfold, we must express our disappointment in its failure to seriously probe the drug killings that have occurred under the Duterte presidency.
It made the fatal mistake of directing its attention elsewhere – to the alleged Davao Death Squad.
Given that it was mishandled and even manipulated to serve partisan interests, nobody will miss the inquiry when it goes kaput soon.
What did the inquiry accomplish?
Apart from exposing the stunning magnitude of the drug menace in this country, the answer, we regret to say, is close to nothing. The public is none the wiser or better informed about the drug-related killings and the thousands who have been killed. Meanwhile the killings continue every day.