16 cops deny existence of Davao Death Squad; only one denies knowing Matobato

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 October) – Sixteen of the policemen who testified before the Senate Committee hearing on extrajudicial killings Monday denied the existence of a Davao Death Squad (DDS) but only one denied knowing Edgar Matobato, who alleged on September 15 and 22 that former Davao City mayor, now President Rodrigto Duterte, founded the DDS and ordered the killing of criminals.

All sixteen police officers implicated by Matobato in the killings and abductions denied his allegations and denied the existence of the DDS. But only one – SPO1 Jun Bisnar, the security escort of the young Paolo (now Vice Mayor) and the other members of the Duterte family,  said “Di ko po kilala si Edgar Matobato.” He said he heard of Matobato only when the latter testified at the Senate hearing.

Earlier at the start of the hearing, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s running mate in the May 2016 elections, said he asked the policemen’s lawyer about certain stipulations “and he said they’re willing to stipulate that they know Mr. Matobato and Mr. Matobato knows them so that will do away with the identification because they’re willing to admit that. But I’d rather they say it themselves when they get there. The request is just that they be given the opportunity to testify freely before they are confronted just because there were three previous hearings wherein their names were continuously battered.”

The joint hearing of the Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights and Dangerous Drugs and Pulic Order at the Senate in Pasay City was the fourth, with Matobato testifying on September 15 and 22.

Retired Sr. Supt. Dionisio Abude and SPO4 Arthur Lascanas testified separately, P03 Enrique delos Reyes Ayao and SPO1 Vivencio Jumawan, Jr. testified jointly while the rest were brought into the session hall together.

Abude, chief of the Heinous Crime Investigation Section (HCIS) from January 15, 2003 until March 8, 2006, said the section, activated on August 24, 2001, was not created to “kill people” as Matobato alleged.  Matobato had claimed the office was the nerve center of the DDS operations.

Abude was among 21 police officials fined the equivalent of one month salary in March 2012 by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales due to the “unabated killings in Davao City in the recent years, attributed to the Davao Death Squad.”

Found guilty of  “simple neglect of duty,” were Abude and 20 others including incumbent Davao City Police Office chief, John Dubria and his predecessor Vicente Danao.

The Ombudsman’s Office in a press release on March 29, 2012 said the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Agencies (MOLEO) fact-finding team  reported that “from 2005 to 2008, the Davao City Police Office registered an unusually high number of unsolved killings” – 720 persons – 97 in 2005, 165 in 2006, 199 in 2007 and 259 in 2008, mostly by motorcycle-riding gunmen in tandem,  and that a mere 321 or less than 50% of the cases, however, were solved.

The Ombudsman said the killings “were repeatedly committed within the areas of jurisdiction of respondents’ precincts where they were assigned” and held them accountable for “neglect of duty” under the doctrine of “command responsibility.”

Then mayor Rodrigo Duterte had repeatedly said he would “assume full responsibility” and had also repeatedly apologized to his constituents for failure to catch the killers.

Lascanas, who claimed the DDS is “media hype lang yun” denied  Matobato’s allegations he was the “team leader” and that he was close to Duterte. “Hindi po totoo yan. Sinungaling po si Edgar Matobato,” (That’s not true. Edgar Matobato is a liar), Lascanas told Senator Leila de Lima.

He said he served at the HCIS from the time it was organized in 2001 until its dissolution in 2010.  This period represents the return of Duterte as mayor for three terms after a stint as Representative of the first district in 1998 to 2001. Duterte served as mayor for 22 years. He was appointed Vice Mayor in 1986, elected Mayor for three terms from 1988 to 1998 and served as Vice Mayor from 2010 to 2013 and returned as  Mayor from 2013 to 2016.

Lascanas said he first met Matobato in 1996 when Matobato approached him and offered to sell on behalf of the owner, a beachline property.

He explained that he was then working as real estate broker on the side, found a Chinese buyer and gave Matobato 300,000 pesos in commission. He said this led to a friendship that had him recommending Matobato in 1998 to be bodyguard of Roger Antalan, then the first mayor of the newly-created Island Garden City of Samal. He said he also recruited Matobato to serve as caretaker of a coconut-planted land in Samal,  admitted to Senator de Lima that yes, Matobato attended his birthday celebrations and sometimes even slept at his house, and to de Lima and Senator Antonio Trillanes, that he gave Matobato  a wristwatch.

Over the years, Lascanas said, he gave Matobato some 800,000 pesos worth of commissions.

“To my understanding, he (Matobato) was a member of the Auxiliary Group of Scout Rangers  in Calinan,”  Lascanas said, adding Matobato was often seen with a “full pack M14 rifle.”

When Senator Leila de Lima mentioned names of rebel returnees whom Matobato identified to be DDS members,  Lascanas replied “nakikita at narinig ko po yan,” “hindi po,” “very familiar” “pagkaalam ko member of the Rebel Returnees Association.”

Matobato had claimed that rebel returnees were also among the members of the DDS.

Lascanas told Senator Panfilo Lacson he thinks Matobato may have been used for political ends, to destroy the gains of President Duterte.  He said if he were close to Duterte, his brothers Cecilio and Fernando, both linked to illegal drugs, would not have been killed by the city police in 2011 and 2014.

Ayao and Jumawan testified that Matobato, whom they said was a member of the Civil Security Unit of the City Mayor’s Office assigned to guard the gate of the Almedras Gym where the office of the HCIS was located, was often in camouflage uniform, with an M14 rifle and even a grenade.

SPO4 Sanson “Sonny” Buenaventura, security escort and driver of Duterte from 1988 until his retirement in December 2008, said he first saw Matobato in Samal Island in the 1990s and his image struck him seince he was then wearing sando with his caliber 45 gun on his sholulder holster and a bandolier of M14 ammunition, riding an owner-type vehicle.  He said he inquired about his identity and was told Matobato was a security escort of the island’s mayor.

Matobato’s service card at City Hall shows he was employed as a casual laborer from August 1990 to December 1995.

Col. Bartolome Bacarro read a certification from Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Eudardo Ano that “after thorough verification” of records from 1976, “Edgar Matobato does not appear” on the roster of the Civilian Home Defense Force or the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit. He also said that as a direct action force, the Scout Rangers is “not in a  position to handle auxiliaries” and that the Scout Ranger course is “exclusively for active military personnel.”

Matobato had earlier claimed that before joining the DDS, he was a member of the Cafgu but later said he meant the CHDF, and later under the Auxiliary, allegedly of the Scout Rangers.

“In other words he was lying,” Senator Panfilo Lacson asked. “Based on records we have, yes Sir,” Bacarro replied.

Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan, chief of the Police Regional Office in Southern Mindanao told the Committee that while 23 police personnel were summoned after having been implicated by Matobato, there were actually only 22 since one had a double entry, apparently referring to a policeman surnamed Aquino.

Gaerlan said that of the 22, 12 are still in active service, 10 of them still under his command while two others – SPO1 — are with the Aviation Security Group and the Police Security and Protection  Group. The rest have retired. One had passed away.

A total of 16 out of the 22 testified at the Senate.

The hearings were suspended until further notice. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)