Witness says Philippine president ordered killings of 1,000

Friday, September 16, 2016

MANILA, Philippines -- 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 he heard Duterte order some of the killings and acknowledged he himself carried out about 50 deadly assaults as an assassin, including a suspected kidnapper fed to a crocodile in 2007 in southern Davao del Sur province.

Rights groups long have 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 implicate Duterte directly 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 she used to have a driver who took money from detained drug lords. She has denied the allegations.

Matobato said Duterte once had 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.

"If you went inside the upper portion, we were already in ambush position," Matobato told de Lima. "It's good that you left."

The recent killings of suspected drug dealers have sparked concerns in the Philippines and among U.N. and U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, who have urged Duterte's government to take steps to stop the killings and ensure his anti-drug war complies with human-rights laws and the rule of law.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: