Confessed hitman lists Duterte’s ‘sins’

Posted on September 16, 2016

RODRIGO R. DUTERTE shot dead a justice department employee and ordered the murder of opponents, a confessed former death squad member told a Senate hearing on extrajudicial hearings on Thursday, among other explosive allegations against the Philippine president.

Edgar Matobato, who claims to be a former member of Davao City’s so-called death squad, at the Senate -- AFP
The self-described assassin, Edgar Matobato, 57, told the Senate committee on justice and human rights -- headed by Mr. Duterte’s nemesis, Senator Leila M. de Lima -- that he and a group of policemen and ex-communist rebels killed about 1,000 people over 25 years on Mr. Duterte’s orders. One of his targets, Mr. Matobato said, was fed alive to a crocodile.

Many of the others were garroted, burned, quartered and then buried at a quarry owned by a police officer who was a member of the death squad. Others were disemboweled and dumped at sea to be eaten by fish.

The Senate is investigating alleged extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s anti-crime crackdown that police said have left 3,140 people dead in his first 72 days in office.

In the course of Thursday’s hearing, Ms. de Lima and another critic of Mr. Duterte, Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV, locked horns with Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano -- Mr. Duterte’s running mate in this year’s presidential election, over the credibility of the witness, questions over Ms. de Lima’s “neutrality,” and what Mr. Cayetano described as Mr. Trillanes’ “trash talk” beside him.

Ms. de Lima, who used to head the Commission on Human Rights, told the inquiry that Mr. Matobato had surrendered to the investigation body in 2009 and had until recently been in a witness protection scheme.

Mr. Matobato said that in 1993, he and other members of the death squad were on a mission when they approached a road blocked by the vehicle of an agent from the justice department’s National Bureau of Investigation.

A confrontation degenerated into a shootout. Mr. Duterte, mayor of the southern city of Davao at the time, then arrived on the scene, Mr. Matobato said.

“Mayor Duterte was the one who finished him off. Jamisola (the justice department official) was still alive when he (Duterte) arrived. He emptied two Uzi magazines on him.”

His testimony fleshed out in gruesome detail for the first time long-running allegations that Mr. Duterte was behind a death squad that killed more than a thousand people in Davao, where he was mayor for most of the past two decades.

“Our job was to kill criminals, rapists, pushers, and snatchers. That’s what we did. We killed people almost on a daily basis,” Mr. Matobato said.

But he also said they killed personal enemies of the Duterte family between 1988 and 2013.

Among the many murders he claimed were ordered by Mr. Duterte, who went by the code name “Charlie Mike,” was the ambush of broadcaster Jun Pala, a former bosom friend turned fierce critic of the then Davao mayor.

Mr. Pala was ambushed in September 2006. Soon after his election victory this year, Mr. Duterte, remarking on media killings at a news conference, said of Mr. Pala: “I do not want to diminish his memory but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it.”

Following the 1993 bombing of Davao’s San Pedro cathedral, in which seven were killed and more than 150 wounded, Mr. Matobato said Mr. Duterte ordered them to carry out grenade attacks on mosques in the city.

Mr. Duterte also ordered the killing of Muslims at the time, Mr. Matobato said.

In the 2010 elections, Mr. Matobato said when then House Speaker Prospero C. Nograles ran for mayor against Mr. Duterte, they killed four of Mr. Nograles’ “bodyguards,” including a woman who was a former barangay captain. The four, Mr. Matobato said, were taken to Samal where they were strangled and their abdomens cut open, their bodies thereafter stuffed with hollow blocks before they were thrown out at sea.

Mr. Duterte’s son, Paolo, on the other hand, allegedly ordered at least two hits in 2013, when he was already Davao City Vice-Mayor -- one on a man who had angered him when he accused the younger Mr. Duterte of acting brave only because of his position, and another man who supposedly cut him at a gasoline station.

Mr. Matobato also accused the younger Mr. Duterte of ordering the 2014 murder of Cebu hotelier Richard King, supposedly because of rivalry over a woman. The two gunmen were also later killed, again supposedly on the Vice-Mayor’s orders.

Asked why he left the death squad, Mr. Matobato said he was “bothered by my conscience.”

The vice-mayor said in response on Thursday: “What de Lima and this certain Matobato say in public are bare allegations in the absence of proof. They are mere hearsay. I will not dignify with an answer the accusations of a madman.”

For their part, Mr. Nograles and his son, incumbent congressman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, said they were not aware of any supporters killed.

Mr. Nograles added that his supporters as mentioned by Mr. Matobato are still alive. “Futhermore, witness could have asked the Speaker’s protection when I was at the height of power and could have [provided protection]. But he did not!”

Mr. Duterte’s communications secretary, Martin M. Andanar, said he doubted that the President, as Davao City mayor then, could have ordered the killing of 1,000 people.

“I don’t think he’s capable of giving a directive like that. The Commission on Human Rights already investigated this a long time ago and no charges were filed,” Mr. Andanar said.

“Lies and fabrications” are how Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II, in turn, described Mr. Matobato’s testimony, adding, “It can only be the product of a fertile and a coached imagination.”

Mr. Aguirre also questioned the witness’ lack of affidavit, which he said is essential to being under the witness protection program that Mr. Matobato said he had abandoned. The secretary noted further that Ms. de Lima, since the time she headed the human rights commission and investigated Davao’s reputed death squad, had filed no case against Mr. Duterte.

In her statement, Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo said allegations raised by Mr. Motabato are “serious” and all efforts must be exhausted “to get to the truth with due regard for our democratic processes and the rule of law.”

Ms. Robredo also said she was “offended by Senator Cayetano’s accusation that the Liberal Party is plotting to oust the President and that I will be the intended beneficiary of this plan.”

“In yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, I personally made the assurance that no such plan exists and we continue to support the reforms of this administration,” Ms. Robredo said.

Besides Mr. Duterte and his son, Mr. Matobato also tagged in the Davao City killings Philippine National Police Chief Director-General Ronald M. dela Rosa, National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gierran, and police officer Arthur Lascañas.

But Mr. dela Rosa, who was at Thursday’s hearing, said of Mr. Matobato: “This is the first time that I see this person.”

Thursday’s hearing ended early in the afternoon. Hours later, Mr. Duterte was at Camp Tecson in Bulacan province, addressing government troops once more in remarks that touched on drugs, history, among other topics, but not on the Senate hearing that day.

Mr. Duterte said, however, he will disclose his next narco-list soon, containing names of 1,000 mayors, governors, and barangay captains.

“The final report is there. I am about to make it public.” he said, adding this has been verified by intelligence agencies. -- main report by AFP, with reports from and inputs by Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral, Raynan F. Javil, and Kristine Joy V. Patag