A FORMER militiaman on Thursday accused President Rodrigo Duterte and his son Paolo of ordering the murder of their enemies and criminals in their home city of Davao, revelations that were immediately rejected by the Palace as the testimony of a “perjured” and “coached” witness.
Self-described hitman Edgar Matobato, 57, testified during the third hearing of a Senate investigation into alleged extrajudicial kilings in the administration’s war on illegal drugs, but talked about his involvement in the “Davao Death Squad” that he claimed had killed about 1,000 people over 25 years under Duterte’s orders when he was city mayor.
In his graphic testimony, Matobato claimed many of the victims were hanged, burned, quartered and then buried at a quarry owned by a police officer who was a member of the death squad. Others were dumped at sea to be eaten by fish.
“Our job was to kill criminals, rapists, pushers, and snatchers. That’s what we did. We killed people almost on a daily basis,” said Matobato before the Senate justice and human rights committee.
Duterte did not address the accusations in a televised speech before scout rangers in Bulacan on Thursday, but Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd pounced on Matobato whom he called a liar, and Sen. Leila de Lima whom he said was “desperate” to divert public attention from her alleged links to the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary.
“The statements of Matobato are all lies, fabrications, and have no credibility simply because there is no corroborating evidence. This is what we call a lying and coached witness,” Aguirre told reporters.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Duterte was not capable of giving orders to kill people in his home city.
“I don’t think he is capable of giving a directive like that. The Commission on Human Rights already investigated this a long time ago and no charges were filed,” Andanar said in a news conference.
Duterte’s son, Paolo, the vice mayor of Davao City, called the testimony “mere hearsay” of “a madman.”
Paolo was accused by Matobato of ordering the death squad to get rid of businessman Richard King in 2014. The two were fighting over a woman who owned a McDonald’s branch in Davao City, the witness claimed.
Matobato, a former member of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units or Cafgu, claimed to have been recruited by Duterte, who was then city mayor, to be part of a seven-man group called “Lambada boys” whose purpose was to go after and kill criminals.
The group eventually became the Davao Death Squad, composed of police officers and former communist rebels.
In his testimony, Matobato admitted taking part in various killings carried out by the group, including an attack on a mosque in Davao City in retaliation for the 1993 bombing of the Davao cathedral.
Mayor Duterte, he claimed, murdered an agent of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), whom he identified only as “Jamisola,” in 1993.
Matobato said his group had an altercation with Jamisola, which led to a gun fight. The NBI agent was immobilized with several gun shots in the body, but it was Duterte who finished him off using an Uzi submachine gun, Matobato said.
“Jamisola was still alive when he (Duterte) arrived. He emptied two Uzi magazines on him,” he narrated.
The former mayor ordered the killing of broadcaster Jun Pala who was critical of Duterte, in 2003, Matobato also said.
The killing, he said, was carried out by a certain SPO2 Jun Ayao, but it was later blamed on the New People’s Army, the communist armed wing.
Duterte also had a dance instructor, said to be a boyfriend of the former mayor’s sister Jocelyn, killed in 2013.
Matobato said they abducted the dance instructor on Jacinto street and killed him at the Ma-a quarry, because Duterte thought the man was after his sister’s money.
In a television interview, Jocelyn branded the accusation as “malicious” and said she did not have relationships with any of her dance instructors.
In 2002, the death squad abducted and hanged a suspected international terrorist in a public market in Samal Island upon orders of Duterte, Matobato said.
The suspect, whom he identified as Salim Makdum, was brought to the office of the the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) in Davao, headed by Ronald de la Rosa, who is now chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Duterte also ordered the killing of four individuals identified with former Speaker Prospero Nograles, who ran for mayor in 2010 but lost to Duterte, the witness claimed.
Matobato said the four, including a barangay captain, were killed and their bodies were thrown to the waters surrounding Samal Island.
Paolo also ordered the killing of an unidentified male with whom he had an altercation in a gasoline station, Matobato said.
The younger Duterte is a drug dependent and was involved in illegal smuggling in Davao City, he claimed.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, doubted Matobato’s credibility, finding holes in the latter’s testimony.
Lacson said PAOCTF was dissolved in 2001 after the ouster of President Joseph Estrada. He also noted that the witness initially claimed he personally knew de la Rosa, but Matobato later changed his statement. This was after de la Rosa denied ever meeting Matobato.
“Your honor, this is the first time that I see this person,” de la Rosa told the Senate panel, even as he admitted having heard of Matobato’s name as a “gun for hire.”
For Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, lapses and inconsistencies in Matobato’s statements were minor.
“These minor lapses can be allowed because he was with the group since 1988 and sometimes you can’t remember trivial details like the exact dates, but he is sure of the people who was with him during those times,” Trillanes said.
Senate protection denied
Trillanes during the hearing moved to place the confessed Davao Death Squad hitman under the protection and custody of the Senate.
But Trillanes said he got word from the office of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd that the request was denied.
De Lima wrote Pimentel asking him to allow the Senate to take custody of the witness. Matobato has received death threats, she claimed.
“To deprive our witness the benefit of the Senate’s protective custody can only mean that denial of our only chance to get to the bottom of all the extrajudicial killings in a legal manner,” de Lima stated in her letter.
Six years, no case
Aguirre slammed de Lima for reviving the Davao Death Squad allegations, when she was unable to file a case against Duterte when she was Justice secretary in the previous Aquino administration.
“Senator de Lima had six years to file any case she deems worthy to be filed. The question that begs asking is why pursue this only now when there will be a House of Representatives hearing on the proliferation of drugs in the New Bilibid Prison,” Aguirre said.
He admitted that he lawyered for former Davao police official Benjamin Laud, owner of the quarry that allegedly became the mass grave for slain criminals.
But the Commission on Human Rights failed to prove that the bodies of the death squad victims ended up in Laud’s property, Aguirre said.
“They couldn’t even establish if those were bones of humans or animals. It was even found that it was actually a gravesite for people killed by Japanese soldiers during their occupation in the country,” Aguirre said.
NBI chief Dante Gierran also denied that he had ordered certain individuals fed to crocodiles, as claimed by Matobato.