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Senate to end probe on extralegal killings

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Senate's Committee on Justice and Human Rights, gestures as he questions witnesses at the resumption of the Philippine Senate probe on extrajudicial killings in the continuing "war on drugs" campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte Monday, Oct. 3, 2016 in suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. The Philippine Senate's Committee on Justice and Human Rights, has invited witnesses to look into the possible human rights violations and extrajudicial killings in Davao city when Duterte was still the city mayor as well as the current "war on drugs" campaign by the present administration. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate committee on justice will end its inquiry into drug-related extrajudicial killings in the country – a move branded by some senators as “a travesty of the truth.”

The decision to hold the final hearing next week came after a closed-door caucus of the committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday.

The panel conducted a hearing on Monday that lasted for 13 hours and was marred by bickering among senators, highlighted by the walkout of Sen. Leila de Lima.

De Lima said yesterday her colleagues were ganging up on her based on flimsy reasons just to stop the inquiry.

Among the issues that cropped up in previous hearings, which apparently led to the committee’s move to wrap things up, were De Lima and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV allegedly using the hearings to destabilize the Duterte administration, and the lack of credibility of self-confessed hit man Edgar Matobato as witness.

Gordon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Monday confronted De Lima on her apparent concealment of a kidnapping case filed against Matobato by the family of Sali Makdum, whom the witness claimed was a terrorist that President Duterte had allegedly ordered killed.

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“Matobato will no longer be an issue because he’s damaged goods. There’s no probative value (in his testimony) because he has totally destroyed his credibility,” Gordon told reporters.

“The nature of our investigation is not adversarial. We’re all here to find out what’s the truth of the matter so that we can come out with proper legislation,” he said.

Matobato had testified that Duterte had ordered the killing of over 1,000 suspected criminals and opponents from 1988 to 2013 when he was mayor of Davao City.

The 57-year-old witness claimed he was a member of the Davao death squad that took orders from Duterte through his trusted police aides.

De Lima, then the justice committee chair, initiated the inquiry by presenting Matobato in her resolution last August looking into the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country from May 10 to July 12 this year.

Other senators, however, pointed out that Matobato’s testimony was not covered by the scope of De Lima’s resolution. This prompted Trillanes to file a new resolution asking the same panel to simultaneously investigate the so-called Davao death squad (DDS).

In the previous hearings, Lacson and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano pointed to several inconsistencies in Matobato’s testimonies.

On Monday, the panel heard the testimonies of retired and active police officers that Matobato tagged as members of the DDS. The witnesses strongly denied the allegations and branded Matobato as a gun-toting braggart while he was under the employ of the Davao City government as a guard and civilian agent.

During the hearing, De Lima was confronted by Gordon and Lacson on her alleged concealment of Matobato’s kidnapping case. De Lima showed a transcript from a previous hearing that showed the case was mentioned.

Lacson later countered that while the case was mentioned in a previous hearing, the kidnapping was apparently a personal offense committed by Matobato with cohorts who were not members of the DDS whom he had previously named.

Later in the hearing, Cayetano and Sen. Manny Pacquiao said they wanted the inquiry terminated, saying Matobato had duped the senators.

“The Filipinos were taken for a ride here… I don’t want the international community to think that this is the kind of country we are running,” Cayetano said.

De Lima told reporters the move to exclude DDS from the inquiry was “a travesty of justice, a travesty of the truth.”

De Lima pleaded to her colleagues to continue the hearings. 

She said if the members of the committee are “having problems” with the testimony of Matobato, then the panel can still continue with its hearings without him.

“I hope the primary hearing on the main subject matter of extrajudicial killings (would continue) because you know, that would be a travesty of truth, a travesty of justice as many (are) victims of extrajudicial killings,” De Lima told reporters.

“Since they are so uncomfortable with the testimony of Mr. Matobato, then the main hearing on the spate of killings, the subject matter of the first resolution, should not be affected,” she said.

De Lima said she had the impression that since Day One of the inquiry, other senators were hostile towards Matobato.

“That’s why every opportunity that they can have in terms of pointing out the alleged inconsistencies, lapses, etcetera, they took it, while I alone, was like ‘taking up the cudgels’ (for him),” she said.

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