Pimentel denies Senate protection for witness vs Duterte

Camille Elemia
Pimentel denies Senate protection for witness vs Duterte
(UPDATED) Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III says there is no Senate rule to justify Senator Leila De Lima's request and that the testimony is 'not relevant'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III on Thursday night, September 15, rejected Senator Leila De Lima’s request for the chamber to secure witness Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman of the Davao Death Squad.

This came hours after the committee on justice and human rights, which De Lima heads, made a verbal request through a motion.

Pimentel said he declined the request because there are no Senate rules that could back it up.

He claimed Matobato’s testimony is “not relevant” to the probe.

“I intend to run the Senate based on rules. I’ve denied the request for protective custody of the witness because there is no Senate rule to justify it,” Pimentel said in a Facebook post.

“There’s even no showing that his life or safety is threatened. Worse, the witness’ testimony is not even relevant to the resolution being investigated,” he added.

(READ: TIMELINE: Witness lists killings allegedly ‘ordered by Duterte’)

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV confirmed the information.

“Sen. Pimentel’s office has just informed us that he has denied the committee’s request for Senate custody of Mr. Edgar Matobato,” he said in a text message.

Pimentel is an ally and partymate of President Rodrigo Duterte in PDP-Laban.

Request letter

In the request letter, De Lima said Matobato needs Senate protection as he might be able “to provide additional information to establish a pattern between the operations of the DDS in Davao City and the ongoing national war on drugs” conducted by the administration.

No doubt that the witness needs Senate protection, said De Lima, as the accused is no less than President Rodrigo Duterte.

“[Matobato’s] security and custody cannot be left to any agency of the executive branch, leaving only the Senate as the only choice for sanctuary and forum for his testimony,” De Lima said in the letter. (READ: De Lima witness: Duterte ‘ordered’ killings in Davao)

If the Senate declines her request, De Lima said it “can only mean the denial of our only chance and opportunity to get to the bottom of all the extrajudicial killings in a legal manner.”

At around 7:30 pm, Matobato was seen leaving the Senate grounds, escorted by Trillanes and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Retired General Jose Balajadia Jr.

Trillanes, who earlier supported the motion, expressed disappointment over Pimentel’s decision.

He, however, said they would still secure the witness.

“I’m disappointed. Anyway, hindi namin siya pababayaan (we will still keep him safe),” Trillanes said. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com