MANILA, Philippines – In the first draft of its committee report, the Senate committee on justice and human rights found no concrete proof of the existence of the Davao Death Squad, the vigilante group allegedly controlled by then Davao City mayor and now President Rodrigo Duterte.
"Walang na-prove eh (Nothing was proven)," committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon said when asked if the 6 hearings proved the existence of the group.
Witness Edgar Matobato, who claimed he was a Davao Death Squad hitman, accused Duterte of ordering executions when he was still city mayor.
Gordon, however, reiterated that they found no evidence that Duterte had a hand in extrajudicial killings. It was Gordon who replaced Senator Leila de Lima as panel chair after the latter was ousted following Matobato's testimony against the President.
"Wala, for the moment. That is my report, walang na-prove eh (None, for the moment. That is my report, there's no proof)," he said.
But De Lima, one of Duterte's fiercest critics, said it is still too early to conclude that the President or the state has no involvement in extrajudicial killings.
"Any conclusion that the killings are not state-sponsored to me would also be premature," De Lima said.
Gordon earlier alleged that De Lima was trying to make it seem like Duterte was responsible for the rising number of killings since he assumed the presidency. (READ: Senate ends probe: Neither Duterte nor state sponsored killings)
Gordon noted that De Lima and Duterte have long been at odds over the issue of human rights.
While clearing Duterte, Gordon said he believes there are policemen involved in the killings, and that the Philippine National Police (PNP) should be held accountable.
"I really think merong pagkukulang ang PNP. Malaking-malaki, tatamaan sila diyan," he said. "Naniniwala ako maraming pulis involved diyan. It's not state sponsored, sila mismo gumagalaw."
(I really think there are shortcomings on the part of the PNP. Huge liabilities, they'll really take a hit. I believe many policemen are involved in extrajudicial killings. It's not state sponsored, but the policemen themselves are carrying out the killings.)
Gordon lamented that Duterte's harsh words against drug suspects may have triggered the spate of violence.
"The fact that kalaban natin drugs, tinanggal ng Presidente ang maskara ng 5 police generals, that opened the dam na barilin 'yung mga konektado sa drugs," he said.
(The fact that we're waging a war on drugs, the fact that the President unmasked 5 police generals allegedly involved in the drug trade, that opened the floodgates for violence against those connected to drugs.)
The Senate committee report would likely be out not later than Wednesday, October 19. – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org