MANILA – A self-confessed former member of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) appeared on Thursday before a Senate committee probe and alleged that the group was composed of cops and rebel returnees.
Edgar Matobato, who claims to have worked as an assassin for over two decades for the former city mayor, said the tough-talking leader had ordered the killings of a number of people during his stint as a local chief executive.
The existence of the DDS has repeatedly been denied by Duterte, even when human rights groups were raising alarm over the killings of suspected criminals in the city.
Matobato said the death squad, which initially started as “Lambada Boys” in the late 1980s, continues to operate up to this day in Davao City, which is now led by Duterte’s daughter, Mayor Sara, and his son, Vice Mayor Paolo.
He said the group carried out direct orders from Duterte or from Davao City cops close to him.
“Ang trabaho namin ay pumapatay ng mga kriminal tulad ng drug pusher, rapist, snatcher. Ganyan ang pinapatay namin araw-araw,” he said.
(Our primary task was to kill criminals such as drug pushers, rapists, and snatchers. Those were the kinds of people we killed everyday.)
"Hindi pumapayag ang opisyal na ordinary lang ang pagkamatay, kasi para silang mga sadista. Kailangan putul-putilin ang mga katawan."
(Our bosses were not satisfied with ordinary killings. They were sadists. They wanted the bodies chopped up.)
Matobato claimed that the death squad was led by cops, not civilian vigilantes.
“Sa pulis wala ng imbestigasyon na ganyan…Walang nahuhuling mga DDS kasi mga pulis yan. Hindi mga civilian ang DDS,” Matobato said in a Senate hearing.
(No investigations were made into the killings. No DDS member was ever caught because they were composed of policemen. They were not civilians.)
Matobato added, New People’s Army (NPA) rebel returnees who were close to Duterte were also brought into the group. He estimates that there are currently about 300 rebel returnees in the death squad.
“Ang pinapatay nila yung mga nasasangkot sa gang war, rugby boys, mga bata pa ma’am. Mga 15, 17. Ganyan ang trabaho nila,” he said.
“Ang mga kapitan ang may hawak ng rebel returnees. Ang nagsasahod sa kanila city hall.”
(They kill those involved in gang wars, rugby boys, the young ones. The village captains are their handlers. They are included in the city hall’s payroll.)
According to Matobato, their victims were usually dumped in lots owned by a cop name Bienvenido Laud. In other instances, Matobato said, the bodies were dumped at sea off the Island Garden City of Samal, adjacent to Davao City.
'MY CONSCIENCE BOTHERED ME'
Matobato said he told his bosses in 2013 that he would quit his job since he was already ageing. He, however, claimed he was implicated in the 2014 murder of hotelier Richard King by his former fellow assassins so he would not squeal.
“Nakokosnesya ako ma’am kasi yung mga inosenteng tao nadadamay. Hindi naman totoong mga kriminal ang iba. Nakokonsensya na ako, nagpaalam na ako. Hinananapan nila ako ng paraan para di na ako makapagsalita,” he said.
(My conscience was bothering me. Even the innocent ones were getting involved. I told them I’d leave, but they found a way to make sure I won’t squeal.)
It was then that he decided to seek protection from the Department of Justice, only to leave its Witness Protection Program this year after realizing that Duterte was going to win the presidential elections.
DUTERTE 'NOT CAPABLE' OF ORDERING KILLINGS
The president won the May 9 elections on a platform of reducing criminality and the drug menace, but human rights groups say he is ignoring due process and tacitly approving extrajudicial killings.
Reacting to Matobato’s allegations, Presidential Communications Office chief Martin Andanar said he believes the president is not capable of giving orders to kill people.
"I don't think he's capable of giving a directive like that. The Commission on Human Rights already investigated this a long time ago and no charges were filed," he said.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, meanwhile, said the allegations needed to be validated.
"Whatever testimonies, statements that the chairperson (of the Senate committee) are saying, we will have to have a proper investigation regarding that."