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Duterte exclusion from Matobato case ‘unfortunate but welcome’

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. AP Photo

“Unfortunate, (but still) a welcome … development,” Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on Friday said of the start of the formal preliminary investigation into cases filed by confessed hit man Edgar Matobato at the Office of the Ombudsman, even if President Duterte had been dropped as a respondent.

“I welcome the development because at least the case filed by Matobato was given credence,” Trillanes told reporters in an interview Thursday night, adding that the investigation was also a “slap in the face” of Sen. Richard Gordon, who had earlier questioned Matobato’s credibility.

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Matobato’s lawyer Jude Sabio told the Inquirer that he opposed Mr. Duterte’s exclusion from the criminal cases, and said that he would “call out the Ombudsman” for it, since the President “was directly pointed as the mastermind (behind) the Jun Bersabal and Jun Pala incidents.”

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Thursday confirmed that fact-finding on Matobato’s complaint had concluded and that the case was set for a formal preliminary investigation.

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But a source told reporters that Mr. Duterte was not included as respondent in the murder case involving the 2003 killing of broadcaster Jun Pala and the kidnapping with murder case involving the 1993 killing of Jun Bersabal, identified as a member of a religious group.

A third case, which did not involve Mr. Duterte, concerned the alleged torture of Matobato by a group of policemen led by SPO1 Reynante Medina.

 

‘Incredulous’

In a series of Senate hearings on extrajudicial killings allegedly linked to President Duterte’s war on drugs last year, Matobato and retired policeman Arturo Lascañas had attested to the existence of the so-called Davao Death Squad allegedly “created and led” by then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte that the hit man said had resulted in the killing of more than 1,000 suspected criminals in the city.

But Gordon, who chaired the Senate committee on justice, and several senators had dismissed Matobato’s allegations as “incredulous.”

In a text message, Sabio said that he “presumes (Mr. Duterte’s exclusion was) because of his presidential immunity, which I think does not apply because the criminal incidents [occurred] while he was still [Davao City] mayor.”

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While it was “unfortunate” that Mr. Duterte was excluded from the list of respondents to the cases, Trillanes said it was for the better since it won’t overlap with the complaint that he and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano had filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in June.

“Among the complementary provisions before (the complaint) can be admitted by the ICC is that no investigation had yet been conducted dealing with the crimes of President Duterte,” Trillanes said.

The senator, a staunch critic of Mr. Duterte, was referring to the ICC’s principle of complementarity in which the court will only prosecute an individual if states were unable to do so.

The ICC will not initiate proceedings if legitimate national investigations into the crimes cited have either taken place or are ongoing.

A well-placed source confirmed to reporters that fact-finding investigators tasked to gather evidence to build up the case had initiated a formal complaint for preliminary investigation.

Related by affinity

Morales also confirmed in an interview on Thursday that “it came to (her) knowledge that preliminary investigation had set in.”

But the Ombudsman did not answer if and why Mr. Duterte had been dropped from the case. She, however, reiterated that she had inhibited herself, because “one of those charged by Matobato was the President.”

Mr. Duterte is related to Morales by affinity, as her nephew, Manases Carpio, is married to the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

At the preliminary investigation stage, respondents are allowed to refute the charges against them after which the Ombudsman decides if there is probable cause to file appropriate charges for a court trial.

Sabio filed two motions asking to be furnished a copy of the complaints filed by the Special Panel of Investigators that tackled Matobato’s testimony.

The motions cited the legal interest of Matobato and Lascañas in the investigators’ formal complaint. The pleadings also noted that “this case is of national importance.”

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TAGS: Davao Death Squad, Edgar Matobato, President Duterte, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, SPO1 Reynante Medina
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