A month ago, Sen. Richard Gordon released the official report of the Senate justice and public order committees investigating the wave of extra-judicial killings. The report found no proof of extrajudicial killings in police operations against drug suspects, and also recommended the filing of murder and perjury charges against Edgar Matobato, the self-confessed member of the Davao Death Squad.
The release of the report prompted news organizations to seek an interview with Matobato, who had gone back into hiding. CNN aired its story the last week of the year; the Inquirer Group followed. In the interview, which was conducted for the radio/Facebook program INQ&A, Matobato said he personally saw President Duterte kill eight times.
Reached for comment by Radyo Inquirer, Gordon belittled Matobato’s statement. ’Di niya mapatunayan sa Senado, ngayon lang sinasabi niyang walong beses bumaril, walang details [He wasn’t able to prove his allegations in the Senate. It’s only now that he’s saying the President killed eight times, but without any details].”
But there was a reason why the disclosure was new; Matobato had never before been asked the question, repeatedly, until it was transparently clear even to an admitted illiterate like him. How many times has he himself personally witnessed Mr. Duterte kill someone? To the case of National Bureau of Investigation agent Vicente Amisola, which he had discussed in detail before the Senate, he added the seven or so incidents that he said he saw Mr. Duterte kill suspected criminals, all male, all in the Ma-a quarry in Davao City. “Sa Ma-a, siguro pitong beses [In Ma-a, perhaps seven times],” he said.
Gordon, a lawyer, was having none of it. “Ang batas [The law says] you have to prove it, hindi puwedeng [it’s not enough to base it on] ‘he said, he says.’ Dapat may ebidensya [There should be evidence]. He had every opportunity.” But this is not true. Gordon had abruptly terminated the hearings, in a fit of pique.
More, the law also provides guidelines for assessing the credibility of a witness and the worth of his testimony. A person who speaks against his self-interest is more credible than someone who speaks only to protect his own interest; Matobato came forward to claim responsibility for at least 50 kills. A testimony of what is called positive assertion is usually given more weight over a blanket denial; Matobato provided many details about specific killings, including that of the alleged Pakistani terrorist Sali Makdum and the Nograles campaign volunteers. And the law weighs the credibility of a witness not only by what he says at one time but what he says, consistently, over time; Matobato has repeated his allegation that President Duterte is the man behind the Davao Death Squad again and again.
But Gordon bore down on Matobato’s character: “Ano ba credibility nitong mamang ito? Anong klaseng testigo yan, pabago-bago testimony [Is this man credible? What kind of witness is that, always changing his testimony]?”
But in fact the testimony has remained consistent. When Matobato first appeared, for instance, Gordon’s cochair, Sen. Ping Lacson, called him out because he said a Google search had revealed nothing about Makdum. Now, the committees have recommended that Matobato be charged precisely for the Makdum case. Those inconsistencies that Gordon, Lacson, and Senators Alan Cayetano and Manny Pacquiao have noted turned out to be perfectly explicable.
Most important, Matobato’s testimony confirms the statements of someone in a position to know: President Duterte himself. He has publicly admitted killing criminal suspects in Davao to give an example to the local police. To the BBC, he admitted killing three men. Why would Gordon, who once complained that the President spoke too much, not factor in Mr. Duterte’s statements in assessing Matobato’s credibility?
As it stands, it is Gordon and others like him who refuse to see the evidence in the streets and who have learned to pretend not to hear the President’s own admissions, whose credibility is on the line.
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