Ombudsman pursues Matobato’s Davao Death Squad complaint

Lian Buan, Jodesz Gavilan

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Ombudsman pursues Matobato’s Davao Death Squad complaint

LeAnne Jazul

(UPDATED) Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales inhibits from the investigation

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED)  – The Office of the Ombudsman has moved for the preliminary investigation of Edgar Matobato’s complaint that alleges killings carried out by the supposed Davao Death Squad (DDS).

This will reopen investigations into the DDS that the Office itself terminated in 2014. 

Well-placed sources inside the Office of the Ombudsman confirmed to Rappler that criminal cases have been docketed for preliminary investigation in relation to the killings of religious leader Jun Barsabal and radio broadcaster Jun Pala. Matobato alleges the two were killed by the DDS, with the blessings of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte, however, is not a respondent in those two cases, the sources said. The respondents have been ordered to submit their counter-affidavits. 

“We will challenge the Ombudsman’s failure to include Duterte,” Matobato’s lawyer Jude Sabio told Rappler.

Asked about it on Thursday, August 31, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales confirmed to reporters the preliminary investigation and added she is not part of the probe.

“I have inhibited myself in that case because one of those charged by Matobato is the President, so naturally I inhibited,” Morales said.

Morales was unable to answer why Duterte was not among the respondents.

Matobato’s complaint, filed in December before the Ombudsman, sought to charge Duterte with murder, kidnapping, torture, and crimes against humanity in connection with alleged DDS killings.

Respondents in that main complaint were Duterte, his son Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, and 25 others.

This revives the Ombudsman’s probe into the DDS. In 2012, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) released a resolution urging the Ombudsman to look into the DDS, and whether Duterte is liable for inaction and tolerance in the face of evidence of numerous killings.”

But in 2014, the Ombudsman Field Investigation Office submitted a fact finding report to Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang quoting then CHR Region XI Director Alberto Sipaco Jr as saying that his office does not have any proof that the DDS exists. This is why the investigation was “closed and terminated.”

Matobato is in hiding. Last March, he was ordered arrested in connection with the kidnapping of an alleged terrorist in 2002. Several arrest orders have been issued against Matobato since he appeared at the Senate in 2016, but all charges were bailable except for the latest kidnapping charges.

This may also have an implication on a similar complaint filed before the International Criminal Court (ICC) by Sabio. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said in April that a move from them can be taken as proof of the Philippines’ “willingness to investigate” the complaint, and be taken as reason to take the ICC out of the picture.

On principle, the ICC will act only when it believes that the country has ignored the complaint, and that investigation and prosecution are not likely to happen.

Jun Barsabal

Matobato claims to be a hitman of the DDS whose kill orders allegedly came from longtime Davao City Mayor Duterte. He was brought to the Senate as a witness by Duterte’s arch-nemesis Senator Leila de Lima, who is now jailed on drug trade charges.

Matobato said that Barsabal led religious group Remnant Family of God, whose members make a living from squatting on land. It was these illegal activities that got him killed, Matobato said.

Matobato said that Barsabal was cornered in Samal Island then brought to Matina where Duterte allegedly beat him up with a golf club. He was then killed in Barangay Ma-a, body chopped to pieces and then buried. This was in 1993.

This is corroborated by a later witness, another self-confessed DDS hitman, retired Davao City police Arturo “Arthur” Lascañas. According to the retired cop, whom Matobato described as “one of the most powerful” policemen in Davao City, Duterte told them in Bisaya, ‘patayin niyo na ‘yan (kill him).’ (READ: Ex-Davao cop: ‘Sabi ni mayor Rody, patayin niyo na ‘yan’)

Unlike Matobato’s claim that Barsabal was buried, Lascañas said Barsabal’s body was thrown out then found in Compostela Valley. Lascañas said he and the other policemen involved were investigated then by the CHR but Duterte assured them of protection. (READ: Matobato’s hit and misses)

Jun Pala

Pala is a broadcaster in Davao City who was described by Duterte as a corrupt journalist “who deserved” assassination. He was shot and killed in 2003 by motorcycle-riding gunmen. (READ: Duterte’s ‘enemy’: Jun Pala)

Matobato said Duterte was fed up with Pala’s attacks against him in his radio show. Then mayor Duterte reportedly stopped giving in to Pala’s requests, which turned his radio show into an anti-Duterte show.

Matobato said it was Lascañas who was tasked to make the arrangements to kill Pala.

In his affidavit submitted to the Senate, Lascañas said he accepted the “contract” to kill Pala from Duterte’s driver/bodyguard, Sonny Buenaventura. For that, he said he got P3 million, P500,000 of which was spent on operational funds.

State probes into DDS

Then CHR chairperson De Lima was among the first to poke into the DDS, and even got to personally interpellate Duterte in 2009. It was also De Lima who probed into retired SP04 Bienvenido Laud or “Tatay Laud’ whose quarry in Ma-a allegedly served as burial ground of those supposedly killed by the DDS.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II was the lawyer for Laud and argued that the search warrants for the quarry were invalid for lack of jurisdiction by the Manila court that issued it. The Supreme Court (SC) ruled in 2014 that the warrants were valid, but it is unclear what has been done since, and what will be done now.

In 2012, the Office of the Ombudsman suspended 12 police officers from Davao City who were found guilty of simple neglect of duty in relation to the vigilante killings from 2005 to 2008. It was on that basis that the CHR wanted the Ombudsman to further investigate the DDS.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.
Natsu Ando


Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.