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De Lima wants Senate to reopen probe into killings

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Leila de Lima denounced the termination of the Senate probe into the spate of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration, as she urged the resumption of the investigation.

"Ang hinihingi ko lang naman 3 to 4 hearings provided na pakinggan na nila 'yung CHR witnesses and I can propose other witnesses, other resource persons," De Lima told reporters on Tuesday, October 18.

In a separate statement, the senator said the Senate should investigate the executions further to send "a strong message to the President and to the police" that law and order must yield to human rights.

Senator Richard Gordon refused to acknowledge the witnesses under the custody of the Commission on Human Rights during the final hearing on October 13, after a CHR commissioner called him a "coward."

Gordon wanted the CHR to apologize to the Senate as an institution, even as he was the main subject of the criticism. In the end, the CHR refused to heed his call and just sent home its witnesses.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, vice chairman of the committee, also said that the CHR witnesses' testimony should have been heard by the panel.

Lacson said he is open to the idea of reopening the probe, as long as new witnesses and evidence would corroborate the testimony of witness Edgar Matobato, the self-confessed assassin of the Davao Death Squad, who accused Duterte of ordering killings when he was Davao City mayor.

"Well, kulang pa rin, 'di napayagan victims ng CHR. Sa akin I was actually, I was requesting Chairman Gordon, why don't we just allow them to present just to get it over with," said Lacson, who is also the chair of the committee on public order, the secondary panel handling the issue.

(Well, it's still not enough, the CHR victims were not allowed to testify. For me, I was actually, I was requesting Chairman Gordon, why don't we just allow them to present just to get it over with.)

Premature

De Lima, fiercest critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, said the termination is nothing but "premature", as there are many witnesses who have yet to testify and documents that have yet to be studied.

"There is no thorough evaluation of the written submissions and documents by the Committee, especially those from the PNP [Philippine National Police], including the official policy papers on Operation TokHang, spot reports of the so-called firefights between the police and the suspects that ended up in the death of the suspects, and the SOCO [Scene of the Crime Operatives] reports," De Lima said.

Gordon, who replaced De Lima as justice chair, earlier said the panel found no evidence linking the President to the extrajudicial killings and to the Davao Death Squad.

"Not only are these pronouncements premature, but also, more importantly, the termination of the Senate EJK inquiry itself is premature," De Lima said.

De Lima said Matobato's testimony should not be disregarded as it shows that Duterte already sponsored killings in Davao City when he was mayor.

Gordon and other senators, mostly Duterte's allies, have questioned Matobato's credibility, citing his “inconsistencies.”

"We cannot discount the testimony of Matobato simply because he happened to implicate the President. We cannot pre-terminate an inquiry simply because it seeks to uncover inconvenient truths," she said.

"It is my submission that Matobato's testimony has legislative purpose. At the very least, he was able to show how a local chief executive can use the local police force and even casual employees to kill, extrajudicially, under the guise of fighting crimes," she added.

Gordon, for his part, refused to comment on the issue. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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

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