SENATORS said Thursday they found several loopholes in the testimony of Edgar Matobato, the self-confessed assassin of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), who alleged that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the killings of about 1,000 suspected criminals and personal enemies when he was Davao City mayor.
The senators, Duterte’s allies in the Senate, questioned the credibility of Matobato for giving conflicting statements. They claimed the witness, who was presented by Senator Leila de Lima on Sept. 15, contradicted his own testimony.
They noted several instances when Matobato failed to reconcile his Sept. 15 statements before the Senate justice committee, then chaired by De Lima, to his present testimony.
After being accused of using the Justice committee for her own personal interest—to get back at Duterte, the former Justice secretary was ousted as chairman of the justice committee and replaced by Senator Richard Gordon.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano questioned the credibility of Matobato’s previous testimony associating Duterte with the suspected vigilante killings in Davao City when he was the mayor there.
Quetioning the witness, Cayetano read part of Matobato’s previous affidavit regarding his alleged involvement in the DDS. But when asked by the senator, Matobato said he has not executed or submitted a formal affidavit to the government.
This was contrary to a report by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that Matobato already submitted a sworn statement on Sept. 4, 2014, when he was placed under the Justice Department’s Witness Protection Program (WPP) and was referred to the bureau by then Justice secretary De Lima.
“Just an observation, the witness tends to change his testimony. There is no affidavit, there is an affidavit… The witness [also] has a tendency to point to President Duterte. But upon questioning, [it would turn out these are just] assumptions,” Cayetano stated.
Cayetano also asked Matobato to recount how he supposedly killed suspected terrorist Sali Makdum under the orders of Duterte himself. Cayetano asked Matobato who ordered them to kill Makdum, to which the witness replied in Filipino, “I don’t know, sir, who ordered it.”
Cayetano said in the last hearing, Matobato made it appear that Duterte had ordered the killing.
“Now he changed the statement. So it was not Mayor Duterte who ordered the killing?” Cayetano asked the witness.
“I don’t know, sir,” Matobato responded.
Cayetano also questioned Matobato’s account of the murder of a NBI agent, whom he identified only as “Amisola.” In his previous testimony, Matobato said the victim was apprehended by a certain Major Pabo after the former’s vehicle was blocking their way during an operation in Barangay Matina.
Matobato claimed that a gunfight ensued between Amisola and Pabo’s team consisting of around 30 people, but it allegedly took them a long time to kill Amisola that Duterte had to “finish him off” using two Uzi magazines.
Matobato in response said they had a hard time shooting Amisola since he was hiding under a pickup truck and was also shooting back at them. He also changed his previous statement that around 30 people were involved in the shootout.
“The inconsistencies [in Matobato’s statements] are just glaring. I will just let the people and this committee decide for themselves,” the senator said.
Senator Manny Pacquiao, who talked to Matobato in mixed Tagalog and Bisaya, also grilled Matobato and repeatedly reminded him about the need to tell the truth. He told the witness that it’s hard to believe someone whose their testimony kept changing.
“How will we – the Senate and the entire country – believe you if the things you say constantly change?” Pacquiao asked Matobato.
Senator Panfilo Lacson asked Matobato whether he knew a lawyer named Abeto Salcedo, Jr. who was ambushed along Bonifacio Highway in Digos City, Davao del Sur on Oct. 23, 2014. He said the victim identified the witness after he saw him in last week’s Senate hearing.
“He recognized you because he survived,” Lacson said in Filipino. “He said you shot him.”
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said Matobato’s statements in the first hearing did not jibe with what he said in the second.
De Lima and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV both tried to explain on behalf of Matobato, but Gordon said witnesses before the Senate should expect an intense level of scrutiny.
In the House, Deputy Speaker and Capiz Rep. Fred Castro pooh-poohed matobato’s testimony.
“Matobato has no choice but to affirm his earlier testimony otherwise, having testified under oath, he will be liable for perjury,” Castro said.
Castro said he believed Matobato’s testimony Thursday was made up of tall tales.
“Matobato has been under the witness protection a long time ago and, during that time, President Duterte was simply a mayor. Thus his alleged fear [for] his life is simply imaginary.,” Castro said.
He said Duterte should have been slapped with cases on extrajudicial killings if indeed he were guilty, but no cases were filed.
“If indeed President Duterte was responsible of various extrajudicial killings, by the thousand, why was not a single complaint filed against President Duterte,” Castro said.
Castro also noted that investigations by the Commission on Human Rights and the Justice Department, when De Lima headed those agencies, yielded no result.
Castro added that verification made by the media showed Matobato had lied about his educational background and record in the Armed Forces, which undermined his credibility.
Former Speaker and ex-Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles said.Matobato “is out of this planet–some alien inventing stories about me.”
Matobato reiterated during Thursday’s hearing at the Senate that Duterte ordered the killing of Nograles’ bodyguards.
“[He’s] maybe a planted congenital liar, especially about my bodyguard,” Nograles said.
Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting said the public should take the statements for what they are: mere accusations.
“If Matobato truly stands by his accusations, then he and his handlers should take the next logical step, which is to seek a legal remedy for the alleged violations of law being hurled against the President. Otherwise, this is political posturing, plain and simple,” Tambunting said.
Newly-installed committee chairman Richard Gordon presided over Thursday’s hearing, which was attended by De Lima, who had been ousted as the panel’s chairman.
At the hearing, NBI lawyer Ferdinand Lavi confirmed that Matobato had filed a complaint in Septemer 2014 against policemen accused of torturing him.
“We filed a case against the policemen in September 2015 for violation of the Anti Torture Act, Arbitrary Detention and the Law Under Custodial Interrogation. We filed this in September 2015, and up until now it is pending preliminary investigation by the DOJ,” said Lavin.
Cayetano, however, questioned why Matobato was given a preferential treatment and immediately placed him in the Witness Protection Program (WPP) without even evaluating the testimony during that time.
“When he came to the NBI and gave his statement in September 2014, he stated that at present, he is under the custody of the Witness Protection Program. That was his statement given to the NBI on September 2014,” Lavin told the Senate committee.
But Cayetano insisted that it was irregular that Matobato was immediately placed under the WPP without evaluating him first.
Lavin then explained that Matobato was just referred to them by the DOJ, and that they were also ordered to evaluate Matobato’s statement.
Matobato confirmed that initially, he went to the NBI to file a complain for torture, but ended up also telling them about the DDS.
The DOJ was then headed by De Lima.
Lavin also said that the DOJ was aware that Matobato had said in his testimony he was a member of the DDS.
“The Department of Justice sent him to us. The DOJ knew that he is a member of the DDS. That he was currently under the WPP. He was not under arrest (for his involvement in the DDS),” said Lavin.
Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino on Thursday said that he is willing to testify against De Lima a day after the Justice Department reversed its earlier resolution that cleared him and a Chinese cohort of criminal liabilities.
In a press conference at the Senate, Marcelino reversed claims made by De Lima earlier in the day that he will not testify against her.
“The government is not forcing nor pressuring me to speak against Senator De Lima,” Marcelino said.
“I did not know Senator De Lima would disclose to the public my text message to my mistah. It was a privileged communication between me and my mistah,” he added.
On Thursday, De Lima said former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) official Marcelino was asked by her detractors to testify against her in relation to her alleged involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) during her term as Justice secretary.
De Lima added that a “common acquaintance” had forwarded to her messages from Marcelino dated July 19, 2016 and Sept. 5, 2016 which thanked her for her help when he was in prison and claiming that there were people out to kill him.
PNP AIDG Directro Albert Ignatius Ferro, however, confirmed that then Justice Secretary De Lima visited Marcelino on March 27 at the PNP Custodial Center, when the latter was arrested on Jan. 21 during a raid in a shabu laboratory in Sta. Cruz, Manila — claiming that he was performing surveillance work. With John Paolo Bencito and Sandy Araneta