Ombudsman may reopen Davao Death Squad probe
The Office of the Ombudsman may reopen its investigation of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) despite having it closed almost a year ago, according to Overal Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang.
“If evidence will surface, it can be reopened,” Carandang explained, after being asked about the issue in chance interview with the Inquirer.
Asked if a fact-finding investigation would be conducted again, Carandang replied: “Yes, yes. It will be reopened.”
It was Carandang himself who deemed the probe, which started in 2014, “terminated” for lack of evidence.
But last Dec. 9, the reopening of the case became a possiblity when self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato filed a complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte, whom he accused of heading the DDS.
The Palace had called Matobato’s complaint as mere “harassment,” arguing that investigators at the Office of the Ombudsman had closed an earlier inquiry for lack of findings.
But Carandang said the earlier termination of the probe was done with no prejudice to the investigation that would need to be conducted on Matobato’s complaint.
The earlier action, he said, “simply quoted the report” of the Davao Region office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that dismissed the idea of the DDS as “chismis,” or gossip.
Carandang only had the CHR report to rely on because investigators could not reach any witness to testify about the group’s existence.
“The team went to Davao and looked for evidence, but did not encounter or speak with anyone,” Carandang said. “So the investigators relied on the Commission on Human Rights.”
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales had earlier said she would inhibit herself and “take no part in cases against Duterte and his family.” Morales is the aunt of Duterte’s son-in-law, lawyer Manases Carpio.
In his four-page affidavit on Dec. 9, Matobato said that Duterte, longtime mayor of Davao City, “created and led” the DDS in March 1988. Originally called the Lambada Boys, the DDS consisted of Davao City police officers and some civilians, according to the complaint.
The DDS was allegedly responsible for the killing of more than 1,000 suspected criminals in the city.
Matobato, reiterating his testimony before a Senate inquiry, echoed this figure and claimed some of the killings were ordered or even witnessed by Duterte himself.
Matobato outed himself as a DDS hitman during the Senate inquiry launched last September by Sen. Leila de Lima as thousands were reported killed nationwide amid the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
De Lima would later be ousted as justice committee chair for presenting Matobato as a surprise witness. The committee would end up issuing a report absolving Duterte and the police, censureing Matobato for perjury, and concluding that there was no proof of either the DDS or the extrajudicial killings in the ongoing police operations against drug suspects.
The complaint, filed through Matobatao’s lawyer, Jude Sabio, accused Duterte and 27 others of murder, kidnapping, torture, and violation of Republic Act No. 9851, the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.
Also named respondents were the chief of the Philippine National, Director General Ronald de la Rosa, and Duterte’s son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, as well as 20 Davao City police officers and the five other original members of the DDS. /ATM