PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte is once again in the spotlight for extrajudicial executions that supposedly occurred under his watch, this time over the string of Davao city murders that took place before his ascension to top office.
After self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato’s shocking Senate testimony on the murders yesterday, critics of the president’s unconventional leadership methods demanded an independent investigation to confirm or deny the man’s accusations.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams categorized Matobato’s claims as “very serious” and said there must be an independent probe on the matter if the president wanted his name cleared.
“President Duterte can’t be expected to investigate himself, so it is crucial that the United Nations is called in to lead such an effort.
“Otherwise, Filipinos may never know if the president was directly responsible for extrajudicial killings,” he said.
During his testimony, Matobato named Duterte as responsible for numerous killings in Davao City when the latter was still mayor.
He alleged that among others, Duterte had ordered his band of hired guns under the Davao Death Squad (DDS) group to murder several aides of his then rival, former House Speaker Prospero Nograles; bomb a mosque and kill Muslims; as well as ambush Senator Leila de Lima and murder her.
Matobato’s allegations were immediately rubbished by Malacanang, while several others, such as Nograles’ son Karlo Alexie, issued statements suggesting the man’s testimony could have been fabricated.
According to Karlo, Matobato could very well be a “liar for hire”. The self-confessed former DDS member was presented to the Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings in the Philippines by De Lima, a known critic of Duterte’s.
But although viciously picked apart by the president’s supporters, Matobato’s allegations still triggered the concern of the international community.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner was quoted in the AFP as saying the department views the matter seriously.
“These are serious allegations and we take them seriously, we will look into them,” he was quoted saying in the agency’s article on South China Morning Post.
Duterte, who has not directly addressed the allegations as yet, is facing international heat for his anti-drugs campaign, which has so far seen the deaths of more than 2,000 drug suspects.
The outspoken president has refused, however, to kowtow to calls by global rights advocates to put an end to the killing spree.
Meanwhile, Matobato’s fate in the Philippines remains unknown after Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, a man described as a Duterte ally, refused to take him into protective custody.
The decision was described as “heartless” by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
Senator De Lima, disappointed with Pimentel, was quoted in Inquirer today as saying she will continue to push for protective custody for her witness by withdrawing the request to Senate and submitting it instead to the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which she chairs.
The committee, which is heading the Senate inquiry on the extrajudicial killings, has the power to grant such a request, De Lima said.