Duterte ordered critic, rival supporters killed, mosque bombed, Senate told
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Duterte ordered critic, rival supporters killed, mosque bombed, Senate told

A FORMER member of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) told a Senate hearing in the Philippines today that President Rodrigo Duterte, during his days as Davao mayor, had ordered the murder of his rivals, as well as the bombing of a mosque and the killing of Muslims.

The witness, Edgar Matobato, was presented by Senator Leila de Lima, Duterte’s harshest critic, when the Senate hearing on the country’s recent spate of extrajudicial killings resumed Thursday.

According to Inquirer, Matobato said he was a member of Cafgu (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit) until Duterte was made mayor in 1988 and recruited him to join a seven-member group then named “Lambada boys”.

The “Lambada boys” was later known as the DDS, the group long blamed for extrajudicial killings in Davao city.

Matobato claimed the DDS kidnapped and later killed four supporters of former House Speaker Prospero Nograles, once Duterte’s bitter rival, on the latter’s orders. Nograles reportedly ran twice and lost to Duterte in the 1992 and 1998 mayoral polls.

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“Mayor Duterte [and Nograles] were rivals, so Duterte had Nograles’ people kidnapped,” he was quoted as telling the hearing in another Inquirer report.

When later asked to state who the mayor was, Matobato replied: “Our president now.”

He went on to claim that the four were taken to the island garden city of Samal where they were strangled and then brutally murdered.

“We cut the stomachs open and I loaded them onto the boat on the shore. We threw them out. Weighed them down with hollow blocks, three for each person,” he was quoted saying.

Matobato added that DDS members at the time worked as “ghost employees” in Davao City under the “Heinous Crimes Section”.

“Our job is to kill people, along with the police and rebel returnees.” – Edgar Matobato, former DDS member

Apart from Nograles’ supporters, Matobato also alleged that Duterte had once ordered De Lima murdered but the ambush operation failed.

He claimed that Duterte personally delivered the order to members of the vigilante group when the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) headed by De Lima decided in 2009 to investigate the extrajudicial killings in Davao.

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The ambush on De Lima was supposed to have taken place when she visited a quarry site in the city to look for the mass graves of the DDS victims.

“When you dug up the [quarry] at Barangay Ma-a, we waited for you. You went inside, we were in ambush position.

“But you didn’t enter the office. We stayed only at the entrance. We were not able to get to you, we were up there,” Matobato told De Lima at the Senate hearing, according to a third Inquirer report on his testimony.

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Further back in 1993, the former DDS member said Duterte had ordered the bombing of a mosque and the killing of Muslims. The DDS, he said, had at the time grown from its initial seven members to include more people, including rebels and policemen.

In the December 1993 bombing, a grenade was thrown through the window of a mosque in Bangkirohan, a Muslim district in Davao city. The explosion reportedly left five people, two of whom were sleeping and three who were praying, injured.

The order was believed to be in retaliation to the bombing of the Davao Cathedral Church, during which six people were killed.

Matobato said Duterte also later asked for the murder of the Muslim suspects, adding that among those killed was one Salik Makdum, who was abducted from Samal.

Duterte is currently facing international fire for his administration’s hardline stance on drug users. Since the president took office earlier this year, over 2,000 suspected drug criminals have been killed, some by local enforcers and others by vigilante groups.