Senators on witness' testimony vs Duterte: He's lying

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators expressed doubt on the testimony of Senate witness Edgar Matobato, the self-confessed hitman of the alleged Davao Death Squad.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III called Matobato’s account “kuwentong kutsero (tall tale)."

Sotto noted the inconsistencies of the witness, and said the allegations against President Rodrigo Duterte would not have any effect on the congressional probe.

He added that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) denied Matobato was in their roster.

During the hearing on Thursday, September 15, Matobato said he was first a CAFGU member under the Scout Rangers in Davao City. He was then later recruited into the "Lambada Boys," whose job, he said, was to execute criminals in the city – drug pushers, rapists, and snatchers.

Sotto also criticized Matobato for repeatedly mentioning the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) when it was no longer existing in 2001 – something that Senator Panfilo Lacson – former chief of the Philippine National Police and head of the PAOCTF – also pointed out during the hearing.

Another thing that seemed dubious to Sotto, he said, was the witness’ repeated glancing at his notes and flip-flopping on some of his statements.

“He kept on looking at his notes then reversing what he said after,” Sotto claimed.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s staunchest ally in the Senate, said Matobato's testimony was packed with lies. During the hearing, Cayetano expressed doubts on the testimony of Matobato, alleging that he may be linked to the Liberal Party.

Panay kasinungalingan na nilalabas dito (The revelations here are pure lies). The witness is telling 100% lies,” Cayetano said in a chance interview after Tuesday’s hearing.

‘False in one, false in everything’

Lacson said he lost desire to continue his questioning because of the witness’ inconsistencies.

“Sa dami ng kanyang sinabi sa kanyang narration, naalala ko sa batas may legal principle tayo – false in one, false in everything," said Lacson. (With all his statements and narrations, a legal principle came to mind – false in one, false in everything.)

He clarified, however, that Matabato's testimony may not be wholly false.

“Di ko sinasabing 100% kasinungalingan ang sinabi niya. Posibleng may 1-2-3 sinasabi niya na may katotohanan pero dahil nahaluan ng kasinungalingan na-confuse ako rito….Alin ba totoo sa sinasabi nito, alin ang hindi?” Lacson said.

(I'm not saying all his statements are 100% lies. It's possible there are 1, 2, 3 that are true but because it was mixed with lies, I was confused. What's true and what's not?)

Aside from the PAOCTF error, Lacson said the alleged international terrorist Macdum seemed to be nonexistent, as he was not able to search it online.

“Hindi ako nag-coordinate kay General Dela Rosa, Puwede tanungin kung kilala mo ito? Lumalabas hindi pala niya kilala. Medyo nag-iba ang demeanor ni Edgar Matobato. Di niya maalala ang taon, di malaman kung 2002 pero sabi niya 2002,” Lacson said.

(I did not coordinate with General Dela Rosa, I could have asked him if he knows him. It appears he does not know him. Edgar Matobato changed his demeanor. He could not remember the year, he could not decipher if it's 2002 but he earlier said it's 2002.)

Lacson also criticized Matobato for his inconsistencies on where Richard King was killed. Citing media reports then, Lacson said King was killed inside his office. Matobato, however, said before the Senate panel that King was killed across a fastfood restaurant.

So material 'yan. Hindi puwede magkamali kung ikaw testigo kasi scene of the crime 'yan,” he said. (That's material. You cannot err if you are a witness because that's scene of the crime.)

“Unfortunately nag-fall short sa expectation at may mga detalye dahil siguro sa kagustuhan maging dramatic ang narration dinagdagan na. Inamin niya di siya kasama kay King. Bakit kailangan sabihin yan?" Lacson said.

(Unfortunately, he fell short of expectation and because there are details added to make the narration more dramatic. He admitted he was not involved in the death of King. Why did you have to say that?)

De Lima had clarified that Matobato, who was not on site when the alleged operation against King was carried out, apparently made the mistake as the crime was committed in a building near a fastfood joint.

De Lima defends witness

Amid the doubts of some of her colleagues, De Lima continued to vouch for the credibility of her witness. She said Matobato’s failure to recall specific details did not automatically mean he was lying.

“Ang talagang impression ko sa kanya, na hirap siya sa mga dates...pero it doesn’t mean na nagsisinungaling siya (My impression of him is that he has this difficulty to remember dates but it doesn't mean he is lying),” De Lima said.

While saying dates are “vital” in any testimony, De Lima said there are people who are not good in remembering such details.

“Minsan nga you have to understand that may mga tao na hindi magaling sa pagre-remember ng mga dates kaya I kept also on reminding him na kung hindi kayo sigurado, puwede 'nyong sabihin, 'Ang pagkakalaala ko ganyan-ganyan,'" she said.

(Sometimes you have to understand that there are people who are not good in remembering dates, that's why I also kept on reminding him that if he's not sure he could say, "This is how I remember it.")

She added: "But it doesn’t mean hindi na totoo 'yung kuwento niya doon sa nangyari o mga nangyari, doon sa mga pagpatay. Kasi alam ninyo naman, detalyado din 'yung mga kuwento niya. Ang feeling ko nga baka may ilan-ilan pang insidente na hindi pa niya nasabi."

(But it does not mean that his story on what happened, on the killings, is not true. Because you know, his story is also detailed. My feeling is that there are still some incidents he has not narrated yet.) – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

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