Matobato’s testimony now
Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre are in unison casting doubt on confessed hitman Edgar Matobato’s credibility by asking: “Why only now?” They say Matobato was placed under the Witness Protection Program in 2014 under then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, but no case was filed. But Panelo and Aguirre should put themselves in his shoes.
In his testimony, Matobato said he was tortured for a week or so by his then cohorts but was luckily freed from captivity. Why he was freed was not explained during the Senate hearing, as he was not asked. Neither was he asked about how he was tortured and the extent thereof.
Needless to say, the torture would have crushed Matobato to the point of near-surrender. Knowing personally the criminal behavior of his former sadist colleagues who, on the supposed orders of “Charlie Mike,” killed 1,000 nameless, simple folks in Davao City like chickens, he must have realized that sooner than later he could be their next target of extermination in order to silence him forever.
Definitely, Matobato has the sharp instinct of a killer whose acute sense of danger is honed from his 50 hits carried out on Charlie Mike’s orders. But it does not require high education to be a professional hitman. If Panelo and Aguirre were to be in Matobato’s shoes, they would have done the same thing—go into hiding in Cebu, Samar and Leyte and then later seek refuge with the Commission on Human Rights and then the Department of Justice.
They should only recall the gangster films or novels they have seen or read. It could help them realize Matobato’s precarious situation. But the Davao Death Squad (DDS) is not a film or novel. From Motabato’s account, it is like the dreaded Mafia, where death is ordered by the crime boss to be carried out by his crime crew.
The thing is, when Matobato was finally able to seek refuge with the DOJ in 2014, it was almost election season. Then Vice President Jojo Binay, who was then nearly as popular as now President Duterte, was the one being pilloried in the Senate, in what is considered to be the longest Senate inquiry.
By then, the nation still had no interest in Digong. Although he issued regular press statements, the national media paid scant attention to him—especially because of his declared lack of interest to seek the presidency, until his last-minute substitution as PDP-Laban candidate.
By and large, Digong was just the longtime mayor of Davao who may have reigned supreme in his political turf, but was largely unnoticed on the national stage except that there were lingering suspicions on the dreaded DDS.
Now Panelo and Aguirre are harping on politics as the motive behind Matobato’s testimony. Of course, there is always politics inherent in this dreadful drama currently unfolding, because Digong is an active political actor. But from a legal standpoint, it is plain to see that Matobato’s testimony just involves 1,000 murders, which should be investigated as a matter of justice, more so for allegedly having been ordered by the President.
In a murder case, politics is not a defense. If a politician is accused of killing a person, it is not a valid defense that his political opponent encouraged and protected the witness. In the face of a voluntary witness who is not under duress or not paid, a defense that politics is behind the witness is futile. The witness’ account, if found credible, will prevail over the lame excuse and could lead to a conviction.
Matobato’s account pertains, first and foremost, to a sordid case involving 1,000 murders, and police authorities being used to commit them. But from the looks of it, politics is undeniably emerging as a benign instrument for truth and justice.
The question begs an answer: Is Matobato’s testimony rendered unbelievable just because he is giving testimony only now?
Imagine this situation: A person is killed in mysterious circumstances. A false witness positively identifies a suspect who is later jailed. Fortunately, after a long time, a new witness surfaces, confessing his guilt and pointing to the specific location of the victim’s remains. A police inquiry reveals the remains to be exactly where the witness says they are. A DNA test on the remains confirms the victim’s identity.
In this situation, Panelo and Aguirre cannot argue, as lawyers worth their salt, against the defense claim that the witness’ new testimony legally compels the reversal of the conviction and the inevitable release from jail of the falsely convicted felon.
Matobato’s testimony partakes of that kind of evidence. By no stretch of the imagination can he be considered a “recycled” witness, as misleadingly claimed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. Matobato has never testified before.
In fact, for more than two decades, there has been no material witness, in the national scene, about the 1,000 murders, obviously because no DDS member has had the guts to pin down Charlie Mike. It took the torture of Matobato and his justified fear of death to embolden him to spill the beans on the DDS.
His testimony has the compelling effect of portraying, in graphic detail, the real, dreadful criminal hits carried out by DDS members. They operated like a real crime crew on orders of Charlie Mike acting like a real Mafia boss. Ultimately, his testimony should lead to convictions.
It just so happens that Matobato is testifying against a populist President immune from suit. But populist appeal should not detract from his testimony showing a pattern of criminal behavior, if not public policy, contemptuous of the sanctity of human life that can be replicated on a nationwide basis.
Matobato’s vital testimony has set the initial stage for providing a shocking visual, as if through the lens of a national microscope, of the malaise that has engulfed Davao City for a long time, and that hopefully will pave the way for enlightened politics to stop the malaise from infecting the whole country.
Jude Josue Sabio is a lawyer.
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