MANILA – A former Filipino militiaman testified before the country’s Senate on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte, when he was still a city mayor, ordered him and other members of a liquidation squad to kill criminals and opponents in gangland-style assaults that left about 1,000 dead.
Edgar Matobato, 57, told the nationally televised Senate committee hearing that he heard Duterte order some of the killings, and acknowledged that he himself carried out about 50 deadly assaults as an assassin, including a suspected kidnapper fed to a crocodile in 2007.
Rights groups have long accused Duterte of involvement in death squads, claims he has denied, even while engaging in tough talk in which he stated his approach to criminals was to “kill them all.” Matobato is the first person to admit any role in such killings, and to directly implicate Duterte under oath in a public hearing.
The Senate committee inquiry was led by Sen. Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign that has left more than 3,000 suspected drug users and dealers dead since he assumed the presidency in June. Duterte has accused de Lima of involvement in illegal drugs, alleging that she used to have a driver who took money from detained drug lords.
Matobato said Duterte had once even issued an order to kill de Lima, when she chaired the Commission on Human Rights and was investigating the mayor’s possible role in extrajudicial killings in 2009 in Davao. He said he and others were waiting to ambush de Lima but she did not go to a part of a hilly area – a suspected mass grave – where they were waiting to open fire.
Duterte has immunity from lawsuits as a president, but de Lima said that principle may have to be revisited now. “What if a leader is elected and turns out to be a mass murderer?” de Lima asked in a news conference.