Senators grill ‘executioner’ over conflicting statements

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The newly organized Senate committee on justice and human rights grilled self-confessed Davao death squad (DDS) hit man Edgar Matobato yesterday, putting his credibility as witness on the line in the inquiry on alleged extrajudicial killings.

Seeing many inconsistencies in the witness’ statements, the committee agreed in the end to invite alleged DDS members, as identified by Matobato, to also testify in the next hearing.

At the start of yesterday’s hearing, newly installed committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano took turns in cross checking the details of Matobato’s testimony in the previous hearing.

With a copy of the affidavit that Matobato executed before the National Bureau of Investigation when he was still under the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice, Cayetano confronted the witness with the alleged killing of a terrorist identified as Sali Makdum.

Cayetano pointed out that Matobato and Makdum knew each other before he was killed and that they were business partners based on a report of CNN Philippines. It was also reported that Matobato’s wife and the wife of Makdum were cousins.

Matobato said he had real estate dealings with Makdum and that he only found out about his being a terrorist from the heinous crimes division of the Davao City police.

Asked if the killing of Makdum was ordered by President Duterte when he was still mayor of Davao City, Matobato said the order did not come directly from Duterte, but from SPO4 Arthur Lascañas, whom he described as the head of the DDS.

Cayetano noted the inconsistencies in Matobato’s statements on how Makdum was killed based on his affidavit and his testimony before the Senate.

In the affidavit, Cayetano noted, Matobato saw a group of policemen slitting the throat of Makdum before taking turns stabbing him.

But in his Senate testimony yesterday, Matobato said he and Lascañas hanged Makdum, then Lascañas chopped up Makdum’s body. 

According to Matobato, he was aware that the orders handed down by Lascañas were coming from the President.

In the case of a certain NBI agent known only as Amisola, whom Matobato claimed engaged 30 armed men in a firefight and was eventually shot dead by Duterte himself, Cayetano maintained that the narration was incredible.

Cayetano said it was hard to believe that 30 armed men were unable to put down a single person. Matobato said there was difficulty in hitting Amisola because he was hiding behind his vehicle and shooting back at them.

On Matobato’s claim that he was also involved in the killing of the bodyguards of former House speaker Prospero Nograles, Cayetano noted that in his affidavit, he claimed that several policemen gave the order to kill them, but in his testimony yesterday, he said the instruction came from Lascañas alone.

Gordon also noted that Matobato gave conflicting testimonies about whose men exactly they killed. Matobato explained that the bodyguards were men of generals Matillano and Jovito Palparan but were detailed to Nograles, who was running for mayor against Duterte.

Gordon also tried to verify Matobato’s claim that he was a member of the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units) before Duterte recruited him into his so-called Lambada Boys, which eventually became the DDS.

Gordon pointed out Matobato’s name was not in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ list of CAFGUs.

Matobato clarified that he was actually part of the Civilian Home Defence Forces (CHDF), CAFGU’s predecessor, starting from 1982.

Matobato said in his testimony yesterday he decided to quit the DDS in September 2013 because he was already old and no longer wanted to take part in killings.

But Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III had relayed to him the claim of a regional adjudicator of the Department of Agrarian Reform in Davao that Matobato made an attempt to kill him in October 2014 in Davao.

Lacson said DAR’s Abeto Salcedo Jr. saw Matobato on television during the previous Senate hearing and recognized him right away as the person who tried to kill him.

Matobato denied the claim, insisting he was in Manila in 2014.

Asked by Cayetano if the affidavit he executed at the NBI was about the DDS, Matobato said it was about how he was tortured and not about the DDS.

Cayetano pointed out that the affidavit was full of details about the DDS, contrary to Matobato’s claim.

According to Ferdinand Laviña, officer-in-charge of the Office of the Deputy Director for Forensic Investigation Service of the NBI, the DOJ, then headed by Sen. Leila de Lima, had sent Matobato to the NBI.

NBI’s Anti-Illegal Drug Division chief Joel Tuvera admitted no lawyer assisted Matobato when he executed his affidavit.

Tuvera said Matobato opted against getting a lawyer and refused when he was ordered to go to Davao with them to present proof of the killings, allegedly for fear for his life.

As such, Tuvera explained, the NBI was not able to build a case regarding the DDS claims of Matobato.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said it was important for the Senate committee to test the credibility of Matobato and the veracity of his allegations during the hearings.

“Matobato’s allegations are so grave,” Angara said. “But in my opinion, these seem to be full of inconsistencies and conflicted with his statements in the past two hearings. But then, we must let the committee decide on what recommendation or action to take. What’s important is this issue is in the public eye.” 

In the end, the committee agreed to summon the alleged DDS members named by Matobato, although invitation was already sent to 23 of them, when De Lima was still heading the committee.

To be summoned are: Lascañas, SPO4 Sanson Buenaventura; Chief Insps. Jacy Francia, Fulgencio Pavo and Ronald Lao; SPO3 Jim Tan, Jun Laresma and Donito Ubales; SPO2 Enrique de los Reyes Ayao; SPO1 Reynante Medina, Bienvenido Furog, Vivencio Jumawan, Jun Bisnar and Gaston Aquino; Senior Supts. Isidero Florivel/Florobel, Rey Capote, Tony Rivera and Dionisio Abude; and certain Bienvenido Laud, Alvin Laud, Roly Engalia and Arnold Ochavez

No CHR representatives

For yesterday’s hearing, the committee invited officials of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to attend, but they did not make it due to short notice.

“It is not the case of being more comfortable with one or the other senator,” CHR chairman Chito Gascon said yesterday. 

“Due to lack of time, we failed to make appropriate arrangements for security and transport concerns for the witnesses,” Gascon said. 

CHR had sent representatives to the previous committee hearings, then headed by De Lima. 

But Gascon stressed the commission is always ready to cooperate with the Senate and ready to assist in shedding light on the matter. 

“But we also need to ensure that our witnesses are secure,” he added. 

The CHR chief said the absence of their officials was because of miscommunication between the committee secretariat and the agency, partly due to the change in leadership. 

Following the ouster of De Lima as committee chair, Gascon said the CHR is ready to work with Gordon and other officials to ensure that human rights and the rule of law are upheld. 

No corroboration, no investigation

 Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) is not inclined to investigate policemen linked to the DDS by Matobato without a sworn statement that validates his allegations.

PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos said the PNP sees no basis for such investigation yet, as Matobato’s testimony in the Senate remains unconfirmed.

But Carlos said the PNP would go ahead with it once there is a sworn affidavit validating Matobato’s allegations.

“What we are looking for is an affidavit, sworn statement or evidence that would corroborate the statement of one person,” Carlos said.

In his testimony at the Senate last week, Matobato said some members of the Davao City Police took part in the killing of criminals in Davao during the term of then mayor now President Duterte. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Janvic Mateo, Paolo Romero







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