Manila, The Philippines – A witness in a Senate hearing on the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines has testified that he was a member of a death squad in the home city of President Rodrigo Duterte, and that the then-mayor himself ordered the killings of crime and drug suspects as well as the bombing of a mosque in Davao City.
Senator Leila de Lima, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, presented on Thursday witness Edgar Matobato, who also claimed that Duterte’s son Paolo, now the vice mayor of Davao, had ordered the killing of a businessman in 2014.
“Our job was to kill criminals, drug pushers, petty robbers and rapists,” Matobato said, adding that his group killed more than 1,000 people between 1988 and 2013.
In a news briefing, Martin Andanar, a spokesman of the president, denied the allegations, saying: “I don’t think he [Duterte] is capable of giving those orders.”
In a separate news report, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte also denied the allegations, calling the witness a “madman”.
“What De Lima and this certain Matobato say in public are bare allegations in the absence of proof. They are mere hearsay,” Duterte said.
“I will not dignify with an answer the accusations of a madman.”
In his testimony, Matobato said he was the triggerman of at least 50 of the murders in Davao. In one incident, he said he stabbed one of the accused criminals and pushed him out into the sea.
He also claimed that his group was involved in the killing of a local radio commentator, Jun Pala, who was a critic of Duterte when he was still a mayor.
Matobato also said that following the 1993 explosion that killed six people in Davao City’s main Catholic church, the St Peter Cathedral, Duterte ordered a hit on a mosque in the city.
He said that he was responsible for hurling a grenade at a mosque near a wet market in Davao.
The mosque explosion happened about eight hours after the church bombing. No one was hurt in that incident.
“It seems like he wants to avenge the bombing of the cathedral,” he said in Filipino, referring to Duterte, who allegedly also gave the order to grab and kill “Muslim” suspects, and “bury them in a quarry”.
Duterte served as mayor of Davao for more than 20 years. He last served as mayor in June 2016, when he took over as president of the Philippines.
In May 2015 before he ran for president, Duterte admitted links to the reported Davao Death Squad.
“Me? They are saying that I’m part of a death squad? True, that’s true,” he said in a mix of English and Visayan, in an interview with a local television station in Davao.
Duterte was responding to the demands by human-rights groups to investigate more than 1,000 extrajudicial killings in Davao since the late 1990s, when he was also the city mayor.
Reports have linked Duterte and the police force in Davao to the summary executions of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals and even street children.
In 2012, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights recommended to government prosecutors to file murder charges against Duterte.
But prosecutors refused to indict him and only police officers were charged and convicted of neglect of duty.
During the same hearing on Thursday, Ronald Bato, the Philippine police chief, told senators that as of Thursday, at least 1,506 people had been killed in police operations against illegal drugs, while there were 2,035 murders by unknown asssailants that are under investigation.
That brings the total to 3,541 people killed during Duterte’s 78 days as president.