‘Duterte ordered us to kill’
A confessed hit man from Davao City on Thursday pictured the President of the Philippines as a cold-blooded killer.
Edgar Matobato, 57, a former militiaman, told the Senate committee on justice and human rights that President Duterte, when he was still mayor of Davao City, ordered him and other members of a death squad to kill criminals and opponents in gangland-style assaults that left about 1,000 people dead.
Testifying under oath, Matobato said Mr. Duterte himself killed a National Bureau of Investigation agent, Vicente Amisola, in Davao in 2007.
He said the agent’s vehicle unintentionally impeded a death squad mission. The confrontation led to a shoot-out where the agent ran out of bullets and was wounded.
Matobato said Mr. Duterte arrived armed with an Uzi submachine gun.
“Mayor Duterte was the one who finished him off. . . He emptied two Uzi magazines on him,” he said.
Matobato said Mr. Duterte, after becoming mayor of Davao City in 1988, recruited him into the “Lambada Boys,” a squad of assassins that carried out more than a thousand killings in the city over 20 years.
He said the group, composed of policemen and former communist rebels, became known as Davao Death Squad (DDS) in the 1990s and during his time with the group he heard Mr. Duterte order some of the killings.
“Our job was to kill criminals like drug pushers, rapists, snatchers. That’s what we did. We killed people almost every day,” he said.
He said the DDS killed mainly criminal suspects and personal enemies of the Duterte family between 1993 and 2014.
Many of the victims, he said, were garroted, burned, quartered and then buried at a quarry owned by a police officer who was member of the DDS. Others, weighted with hollowblocks, were dumped into sea to be eaten by fish.
Matobato acknowledged he himself carried out about 50 of the abductions and deadly assaults, including the attack on a suspected kidnapper whom they fed alive to a crocodile.
Out of guilt
Saying he was speaking out of guilt for taking many lives even as he now feared for his own, Matobato also implicated the President’s eldest son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, NBI Director Dante Gierran, a roster of mayors and police officials during the nationally televised hearing called by the committee that was investigating extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.
“I want to give justice for what I have done, the sins I’ve committed. I killed people for a long time … . [This is] to give justice to the innocent people killed … . So that people will know what we did in Davao City,” Matobato said.
The Senate inquiry is led by Sen. Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of Mr. Duterte’s crackdown on the narcotics trade that has left more than 3,000 drug suspects dead since he assumed office on June 30.
The investigation has angered President Duterte, who has publicly linked De Lima to illegal drugs, alleging that she used to have a driver who took money for her from drug lords detained at New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
Matobato said it was Mr. Duterte, referred to in the squad as “Charlie Mike,” who ordered the killing of Davao radio commentator Juan “Jun” Pala, whom Mr. Duterte called a “rotten son of a bitch” in a tirade against slain journalists in June that drew condemnation from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Asked later if anyone could corroborate his testimony, Matobato replied: “No. They’re all afraid.”
For several senators, Matobato’s testimony showed a “pattern” that could explain what has been happening on a national scale since Mr. Duterte assumed power: the killing of more than 3,000 drug suspects, more than half of whom are believed to have been executed by vigilantes, according to figures presented by Senator De Lima, the committee chair.
“He (Matobato) wants the country to know that this is what happened in Davao before. That there is a pattern on why this is happening. [What happened before] seems to be similar to what is happening now,” De Lima told reporters after the hearing.
“I don’t want to make an outright accusation. The witness made a narration. It is up to us to discern if it is possible that what happened then [in Davao City] is what is happening now, because no one could say that yet,” she said.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who moved to give Matobato protection, described Matobato “a very credible witness” who clearly knew his narration by heart.
“This witness could show the pattern that what was done in Davao is now being done nationally … . Even if I rehearse 100 times, I wouldn’t be able to do it like he did. You can see that it came from his heart,” Trillanes told reporters.
De Lima said that while the President enjoyed immunity from suit, her committee could refer Matobato’s testimony to the Office of the Ombudsman for investigation of government officials and police officers he had tagged in the killings.
Attacks and murders
In his more than two-hour testimony, Matobato detailed at least 12 attacks and murders involving the President and his eldest son, Paolo, between 1993 and 2014.
The first he recalled was in the aftermath of the December 1993 bombing of San Pedro Cathedral, when Mr. Duterte ordered swift retaliation against Muslims. The cathedral bombing killed six and wounded more than 100 others.
By that year, he said, the DDS had already mustered full strength, fortified by a roster of police officers and rebel returnees at Mr. Duterte’s beck and call. They were hired as “contractual employees” of City Hall in the guise of Civil Security Unit workers.
“Mayor Duterte ordered the massacre of Muslims in mosques … . We were divided into three teams,” Matobato said.
He said he lobbed a grenade into a mosque, but there were no casualties because there were no worshipers at the time.
“He was avenging the bombing of the cathedral. We were like terrorists, Ma’am, because we were bombing mosques,” Matobato told De Lima.
He said Mr. Duterte also ordered the DDS to seize any Muslims they could find. “We abducted them then killed them. Brought them to the Ma-a quarry,” he said.
He described the quarry at Barangay Ma-a in Davao City as the mass grave for their victims. He said it was a property of PO4 Ben Laud, whom he described as “the most powerful police officer” in Davao City to whom even higher police officials deferred.
Matobato also mentioned an “extension grave” in another part of Davao City, where he said more than 100 bodies had been buried.
He also named PO4 Arthur Lascañas as the “team leader” of the DDS, who was present in most of the murders.
Others he named as members of the DDS were a certain Senior Superintendent Capote, a Bubong Aquino, one Bienvenido Furog, a PO2 Obales, one Senior Inspector Francia, a PO2 Medina, a Senior Superintendent Rivera. All were involved in the killings, he said.
Matobato said Laud’s son, Alvin, was the top hit man of the group, having been exposed to the work as early as 14.
He said former communist rebels were tasked to cleanse Davao City of petty criminals, including “rugby boys” or street children addicted to the solvent.
Matobato said Mr. Duterte and four other mayors ordered the killing of Jun Barsabal, a religious group leader accused of land grabbing in Davao Oriental.
In 2003, Matobato said Mr. Duterte ordered the murder of Pala who criticized him almost every day on his radio progam.
“Mayor Duterte ordered the killing of Jun Pala in 2003,” Matobato said, adding that the President had been incensed as “he was hitting him on the radio every day.”
Matobato also said Mr. Duterte ordered the killing of four bodyguards of former House Speaker Prospero Nograles, who challenged Mr. Duterte’s daughter, Sara, in the mayoral race in Davao in 2010. The men were strangled, disemboweled then dumped into the sea, Matobato said.
He said Mr. Duterte also ordered the killing of an alleged Land Transportation Office fixer in 2013. “It was made to appear that he was a robber,” he said.
In the same year, Matobato said his group killed three women accused of dealing drugs. They were seized from their house, killed and then dumped on the street, he said.
He also recalled a 2013 case in which DDS members took a target from Butuan City then brought him to Davao to be murdered. He said he did not know the target’s name or what he had done.
He also went back to an earlier case, in 2007, when he and Gierran had an operation to kill a kidnapper.
“We took him in Sarangani and brought him to Davao. But we did not reach Davao City. We brought him to Digos. We did not use a gun. We just fed him to a crocodile,” Matobato said.
He said Mr. Duterte also ordered the killing of a dance instructor, who was the boyfriend of Mr. Duterte’s sister Jocelyn, in 2013.
Matobato said he and six other squad members abducted the dance instructor and took him to the Ma-a quarry and killed him there.
Ambush on De Lima
The witness also claimed that Mr. Duterte ordered the DDS to “ambush” De Lima in 2009, when she visited the
Ma-a quarry as chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
The CHR was then investigating the extrajudicial killings in Davao, and De Lima’s party found “skeletons” at the site, the senator later said.
“We were already in ambush position,” Matobato told De Lima. “But your group did not reach [the ambush site],” he said.
De Lima later said she heard about the attempt days after the quarry visit.
Matobato said several of the squad’s missions involved putting .38-cal. revolvers in the victims’ hands “to make it appear that they resisted.”
In September 2013, Matobato said he told Lascañas he wanted out.
“I told him I didn’t want to do jobs for them anymore. I wanted to have a decent job. My conscience was bothered because I was killing people who really did not commit any crime,” Matobato said.
It was at that point that he was made a “fall guy” for King’s death, he said.
“I was tortured for a week. That was what was painful for me. I worked for them for a long time, I did what they wanted me to do and then they would kill me,” he said.
But he managed to escape, he said, and went into hiding in Cebu, Leyte and Samar.
Surrendered to CHR
In August 2014, he surrendered to the CHR. But the agency told him “we cannot protect your life” and advised him to seek protection at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Matobato was placed on the DOJ witness protection program but he left in May this year when he learned that Mr. Duterte had won the presidential election.
In a press conference after the hearing, De Lima said an emissary had arranged for Matobato to come forward to testify before the Senate committee.
The committee requested Senate protection and legislative immunity for Matobato, but the witness was “evicted” after Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, president of Mr. Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban, denied the request.
“He was ordered evicted,” Trillanes said. “We will look after him.”
Asked what would happen, as the President may not be charged despite the gravity of the allegations, De Lima said: “Maybe it’s time to revisit, to rethink that doctrine.”
“I really don’t know [what will happen after]… Only God knows. I don’t have the [power] to have him replaced or impeached. But the people deserve to know what [the witness] knows. That’s all that we want to do,” De Lima said. With reports from AP and AFP
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