MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Past the 12th hour of a Senate hearing on the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) on Monday, October 3, Senator Leila de Lima walked out after being chastised by the committee chairperson for "material concealment."
An “umbraged” Senator Richard Gordon chastised the neophyte senator for failing to disclose early on that her star witness Edgar Matobato, who claims to be a hitman for the so-called DDS, has a pending case for the supposed kidnapping of a certain Salim Makdum.
Witnesses at the hearing – Davao police whom Matobato had earlier accused of being members of the infamous death squad – said that Matobato and several others were charged before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) over the disappearance of Makdum.
Matobato earlier claimed that Makdum, whom he said was a “suspected terrorist,” was ordered kidnapped and killed by the supposed Davao Death Squad.
De Lima, who first presented Matobato when she still chaired the Senate justice committee, admitted that the information was part of “notes” gathered over a series of interviews with Matobato in September. De Lima admitted the mistake, calling it an “oversight.”
However, Gordon would not have any of it. “I am umbraged by it…. We went on a very wild goose chase here, because had we known that we would not have called all these people,” said Gordon, referring to the Davao Police who were invited to the hearing.
De Lima walked out after close to an hour of heated debate between senators still present at the session hall as of posting.
Trancript shows Matobato's admission
A transcript provided later by De Lima's office showed that Matobato did mention the kidnapping charges against him during the September 15 hearing, the first time he testified at the Senate.
Matobato, when asked if he would stand by his claim that he killed Sali Makdum, said:
“Opo, ma’am kasi pinaylan ako ng kaso, ma’am ng kidnapping kang Sali Makdum. Hindi ko sila tinuro. Prang inako ko rin. Pinaylan ako sa NBI,” Matobato said. (Yes, ma'am. They filed a case against me for kidnapping Salik Makdum. I did not squeal on them. I simply admitted to it. NBI filed a case against me.)
De Lima then clarified what the witness said. Matobato confirmed it. “Oo, ako ang kinasuhan ma’am. Opo ma’am.” (Yes, they filed a case against me. Yes, ma'am)
A week after, Matobato once again mentioned the kidnapping case filed against him, the same transcript showed. (READ: Matobato admitted kidnap case vs him)
'Act of cowardice'
Matobato had earlier claimed that President Rodrigo Duterte, during his time as Davao mayor, formed, funded and headed the notorious Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group that targeted criminals and, supposedly, even personal and political enemies of the mayor.
Among Matobato's allegations was a "2002" case wherein the death squad supposedly kidnapped and killed Salim Makdum, whom he said was a suspected terrorist.
Matobato named several Davao police, supposed members of the death squad, as those involved in the operation. Several of those police officials were at the Senate on Monday to testify.
Matobato's details regarding the Makdum case – and other parts of his testimony – had been inconsistent.
Davao police disclosed on Monday that Makdum's wife had filed a kidnapping for ransom case against Matobato in 2000 – and not in 2002 – a fact De Lima failed to disclose.
De Lima later said it was part of her notes, gathered over a course of several interviews with Matobato in September.
Gordon said De Lima’s failure to mention the case was “material concealment,” noting that it was “very strong piece of vital information.”
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who has had protective custody of Matobato, read parts of the Senate's official transcript, wherein Matobato had apparently mentioned that a case was filed against him for the abduction of Makdum.
After this, De Lima was fuming: "So where is the material concealment on the part of Senator De Lima? It pains me to be accused of material concealment."
She demanded an apology from Gordon, who had replaced her as chairperson of the justice committee.
Gordon quipped: "Don't melt down, you're melting down."
Gordon against chastized De Lima, noting that she acted "meek" before Trillanes arrived.
Still fuming, De Lima added: "Since no apology is forth coming, I'm walking out." She then began gathering her belongings.
Speaking after De Lima had walked out, Gordon said it was an act of "cowardice" to walk out.
Taken for a ride?
Gordon tried to summon Matobato, but was later told by the staff of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV that he had left the Senate building “so his security won’t be compromised.”
“Para bang kung nabuko na, nawala na,” quipped Gordon. (It’s as if the moment he was found out, he disappeared.)
“We were all taken for a ride by Mr Matobato, and it’s so frustrating that, after all, we’re not smarter than a first grader,” said Senator Panfilo Lacson.
De Lima took offense at “insinuations” that she and Trillanes purposely allowed Matobato to leave the Senate as Davao police began their testimony. Gordon said he was ordering Matobato to return to the Senate.
“I feel very much betrayed by it. Not just by Mr Matobato but our fellow senators as well,” said Gordon.
De Lima and Trillanes are fierce critics of Duterte, while Gordon and Lacson are generally allied with the ruling coalition led by the President.
The Senate probe initially began as a investigation into the rise of killings directly linked to or suspected to be related to Duterte’s war on drugs.
But since Matobato was presented as a witness, the probe has shifted focus onto allegations that Duterte had a hand in the notorious Davao Death Squad.
Duterte has long been linked to the alleged vigilante group, but no cases have been filed against him because of the lack of evidence.
The hearing is ongoing as of posting. – Rappler.com