Davao witness: I was pressured to invent drug issue vs Duterte

Jodesz Gavilan
Edgar Matobato's lawyer Jude Sabio insists Guillermina Barrido Arcillas was not coached, and the only money given her was intended to help relocate her family for their protection

FORCED? Guillermina Barrido says she was pressured into testifying against President Rodrigo Duterte over his alleged links to the illegal drug trade. Photo by Editha Caduaya/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – A woman claiming to have been a “supporter” of the Liberal Party (LP) came forward on Wednesday, April 5, and said she was pressured into testifying against President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a press conference in Davao City, Guillermina Barrido Arcillas* claimed that she was “coached” and was given money by a group – composed of lawyer Jude Sabio, Father Alberto Alejo SJ, and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, represented by a staff member named Jonel – to link Duterte to the illegal drug trade because the issue of extrajudicial killings wasn’t working.

Sabio is the lawyer of self-confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) hitman Edgar Matobato

Arcilla’s “confession” was supposed to bolster the impeachment case against Duterte and the planned case before the International Criminal Court (ICC)

However, she refused to sign the affidavit which, she claimed, was written by Sabio and went through Trillanes and Senator Leila de Lima.

“Nakunsensya ako kasi nakita ko ang affidavit ay hindi totoo,” she said during the press conference held at the Royal Mandaya Hotel. “Hindi ko makayang pirmahan ang affidavit kasi ang content nito ay puro kasinungalingan.”

(I was bothered by my conscience when I read the affidavit. I couldn’t sign the affidavit because it was full of lies.)

Arcillas first approached Davao-based radio station Brigada News, which posted about her on Tuesday, April 4.

Unsigned affidavit

During the press conference, Arcillas repeatedly described the contents of her unsigned affidavit as “masama” (bad) without providing details.

Rappler had heard about the affidavit and her story as early as December 2016, but did not write about it because the affidavit was unsigned.

Arcillas said it was Alejo who specifically contacted her in September 2016 because she is a Davao City resident, is related to a local government official, and has a number of Duterte aide Christopher “Bong” Go.

Arcillas added that a group chat consisting of “troll accounts” of members and supporters of the LP gave her advice on how to convince Filipino-American communities in the United States to criticize Duterte. 

But Arcillas said she was apprehensive early on about working with the camp. She chose to stay reportedly to get hold of proof in case Duterte was successfully impeached.

“At that time, nagka-idea na rin ako, at meron na rin akong kasama na Duterte supporters na sabi nila, pasukin ko raw para kapag dumating iyong time na ma-impeach si Duterte, meron kang hawak na katibayan.”

(At that time, I already had an idea, and some Duterte supporters said that I should penetrate the group so when the time comes that Duterte is impeached, I have proof.) 

She said she made up reasons – including wanting to see her family in Mindanao – just to delay signing the affidavit. Her husband’s family, meanwhile, persuaded her to tell the truth but alleged that she was being threatened by the camp of Trillanes.

“May text nga si Senator Trillanes sa akin na tinatakot nila ako. May mga pananakot sa akin kasi sabi nila kapag bumaliktad ako, matatalo ako sa kanila,” she said. “Nakunsensya din ako na lalo na sinasabi nila sa akin na i-impeach na si Duterte. Deep inside, alam ko rin ang kabutihan ni Duterte.”

(There was a text message from Senator Trillanes threatening me. There were threats to me because they said that if I turned against them, I will lose to them. My conscience really bothered me especially when they told me Duterte will be impeached. Deep inside, I know of Duterte’s kindness.)

We tried to get the side of Trillanes, but his staff said he was in a meeting and was unavailable. 

Not coached

Asked for his side, Sabio said he was the one who interviewed Arcillas since she was a possible corroborative witness of Matobato and Lascañas. (READ: Which information from Matobato does Lascañas corroborate?)

He, however, insisted that she was neither paid nor coached to testify against Duterte. 

“Definitely walang suhulan o pagdidikta mula sa akin, kay Alejo, o sa kampo ni Senator Trillanes,” he told Rappler. (Definitely no bribery or coaching from me, Alejo, or from the camp of Senator Trillanes.)

The only money that was given was for relocation to protect her and her family. 

“Gusto nga niya i-relocate siya at ang pamilya niya, una sa Iloilo, pero ‘di natuloy dahil walang budget kasi gusto niya isama sampung katao,” Sabio said. “Dahil walang budget, pumayag na siya sa Cagayan de Oro at ang pamilya lang niya ang mag-relocate. Nabigyan na siya ng budget para pambayad ng renta.”

(She wanted to be relocated, together with her family, to Iloilo first, but that didn’t push through because there was no budget since she wanted to bring along 10 people. Since we didn’t have any budget, she agreed to just stay in Cagayan de Oro and to bring only her family. She was already given a budget to pay rent.)

The group, however, decided to drop Arcillas as a witness after arguments over money.

“Nagmamadali siya dahil papatayin na raw siya,” Sabio said. “Nag-text pa nga sa akin iyan na dahil nilaglag siya, nakipag-usap na siya ulit sa tiyahin niya na councilor at wala siya magawa kaya babalik na siya sa kampo ni Duterte.”

(She was hurrying because she claimed she was going to be killed. She even texted me to say that because she was dropped, she again spoke with her aunt who is a councilor and she couldn’t do anything that’s why she was going back to the Duterte camp.)

Arcillas also claimed that she was supposed to testify after Arturo “Arthur” Lascañas. Sabio said she was interviewed ahead of the retired policeman, but he didn’t know about Lascañas’ plan to testify.

Despite the accusations hurled against their camp, Sabio maintained that he still thinks Arcillas’ testimony against Duterte is credible and that she just had to make a choice to survive.

“Tingin ko nagalit siya na bigla nilaglag noong patapos na sana, dahil gusto niya talagang mailahad ang nalalaman niya,” he explained. (I think she got angry because she was dropped from the witness roster when she really wanted to tell everything she knew about Duterte.)

“She appeared to me as credible, persistent, and talagang palaban (a fighter).” 

But now, Sabio said, he is considering filing a perjury and libel case against Arcillas if she executes an affidavit based on her latest accusations. – Rappler.com

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story failed to include “Arcillas” in the full name of the supposed witness. It has been added in this version.

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.