Probers set aside story of hit man
THE SENATE committee on justice on Tuesday decided to set aside the testimony of Edgar Matobato, calling the confessed hit man “damaged goods” without credibility, but agreed to hold one final hearing into President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.
Matobato has testified that Mr. Duterte, when still mayor of Davao City, formed the Davao Death Squad (DDS) that had killed 1,000 criminals.
The testimony was widely publicized by major US publications and TV networks and fueled concerns in the United States, United Nations and European Union, over Mr. Duterte’s bloody campaign.
Emerging from a closed-door caucus, Sen. Richard Gordon, the committee chair, told reporters that Matobato’s testimony had “no probative value because he has totally destroyed his credibility.”
Gordon indicated that he would raise an ethics case against Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV for their “unparliamentary conduct and acts” during the stormy, 13-hour hearing on Monday night.
De Lima walked out of the nationally televised proceedings after heated exchanges over purported discrepancies in Matobato’s testimony.
Sixteen of the supposed 22 policemen that Matobato implicated in the death squad trooped to the Senate on Monday night and sought to debunk the confessed hit man’s claims about the existence of the supposed group of assassins set loose on orders of Mr. Duterte.
“There were unparliamentary remarks made out of the session hall, made within the session hall, walking out of the committee and then saying bad things about the committee is unparliamentary in my book,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the agreement to hold one final hearing next week without summoning Matobato was arrived at the caucus, attended by Senators Panfilo Lacson, Grace Poe, Miguel Zubiri and Emmanuel Pacquiao. De Lima and Trillanes were not invited.
As Monday’s hearing dragged well into the night, senators expressed concern that they had been misled by Matobato after learning that the hit man had been charged by the National Bureau of Investigation in connection with the 2002 kidnapping with ransom of Sali Makdum on Samal Island.
Matobato testified that he, along with other DDS hit men, killed Makdum, a Pakistani suspected of being a terrorist.
Senators led by Gordon were irked when Matobato was no longer around to confront the 16 policemen. They felt that Matobato wanted to avoid a confrontation over the case filed by the NBI against him.
De Lima said she did not know Matobato, who she noted had been waiting to be called, had left the Senate.
She and Gordon as well as the other senators got into a heated confrontation when she mentioned that she looked into her notes and found out that Matobato had indeed been charged by the NBI for kidnapping with ransom of Makdum.
Gordon initially accused Matobato of concealing his case with the NBI but later accused De Lima of the same thing.
Not even the explanation of Trillanes, who returned in the evening to say he had allowed Matobato to leave for security reasons, was able to pacify the angry senators.
Gordon said De Lima committed “material concealment” of vital information. De Lima vehemently denied, demanded an apology from Gordon and walked out when her explanation fell on deaf ears.
“Since no apology is forthcoming, I am walking out,” De Lima said. Gordon called the walkout an act of “cowardice.”
Pacquiao later on moved to terminate the hearings and was seconded by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.
On Tuesday, De Lima apologized to the public for Monday night’s “outrage and the walkout.”
She said she was still waiting for her colleagues to say sorry to her.
“They were ganging up on me and they were no longer listening to me anymore on my arguments against the claim of material concealment,” she said.
She added that she hoped people would understand her “emotional outburst,” pointing out she had been at the receiving end of false accusations she had links with drug lords who had turned New Bilibid Prison into a center of a multibillion-peso illegal drug trade to raise funds for her election campaign in May.
“I have no more choice. It’s too much already,” De Lima told reporters.
Trillanes insisted Gordon should apologize to De Lima.
“The transcript was very clear,” he told reporters, adding that Matobato had made reference to the kidnapping case in his exchanges with Gordon himself in previous hearings.
“He cannot feign ignorance,” Trillanes said.
He said the panel’s decision not to take up Matobato’s testimony at the last hearing next week was a “very convenient way of covering up the serious accusations against President Duterte.”
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