Senators gang up on De Lima over Matobato kidnap case

MANILA, Philippines – Senators on late Monday, October 3, ganged up on neophyte Senator Leila De Lima for allegedly concealing the kidnap for ransom case against witness Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman of the Davao Death Squad.

This came after witnesses – Davao police whom Matobato linked to the Davao Death Squad – said that the latter was charged for kidnapping alleged terrorist Sali Makdum. The case was filed by Makdum’s wife before the National Bureau of Investigation.

Gordon called out De Lima for hiding the information from the committee. De Lima initially admitted it was an “oversight” on her part but later on presented transcripts of previous hearings to show Matobato himself disclosed it before the chamber.

Gordon, however, refused to accept the “fatal” mistake and accused De Lima of “material concealment.”

“I cannot let that pass. I can speak for lawyers, that concealment is really despicable and even unethical. I have to express my umbrage at this very very bad situation.”

“We went on a very wild goose chase here because had we known that we would not have called all these people,” Gordon said, referring to the Davao City policemen.

Senator Panfilo Lacson then questioned her neophyte colleague for skipping the detail. He also lamented how Matobato fooled the senators.

“We are taken for a ride by Matobato. It’s frustrating, after all, that we are not smarter than a first grader,” Lacson said.

“We are accusing Matobato of fooling this committee and lying through his teeth!” Lacson exclaimed.

Senator Manny Pacquiao, a partymate of President Rodrigo Duterte, took the chance to slam De Lima and Matobato.

“Dahil dito nga pinatawag mga ininvolve ni Matobato na pangalan, para nandito magkaharap harap. Marami pa tayo dinidiscuss na mas may importansya sa ating gobyerno.. parang pinagloloko lang tayo," Pacquiao said.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, a staunch ally of the President, hit De Lima anew for bringing an unvetted witness to the Senate. Matobato’s questionable testimony, he said, was the basis of the news reports of most international media agencies.

“The problem is because that Mr Matobato was allowed here without vetting him, without disclosing that case, BBC, CNN, New York Times and Washington Post put on their front page that the President is a mass murderer," he said.

Pacquio and Cayetano then moved that the hearings be terminated already, saying there is no more point in doing so.

Gordon, however, only suspended the hearing and called for a caucus on Tuesday to decide whether or not the investigation into the killings would continue.

Apology?

In the middle of the heated exchange, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV came to De Lima’s aid. He presented transcripts of previous hearings that show Matobato himself mentioned the kidnapping case against him.

De Lima then slammed her colleagues for already having a “conclusion” when the hearings are not yet over.

"The inquiry is not done yet. We are still establishing the facts but there is a conclusion already that the witness is lying all along. Mr Matobato has testified on a lot of things. Kung meron mang pong pa iba iba, that’s why were trying to thresh it out," she said.

But Lacson did not take this sitting down and immediately returned the question to the lady senator.

“Who first made the conclusion? Isn’t it you and Senator Trillanes na may conclusion? That’s why we allowed Matobato to testify and testify kahit bali-baliktad. We bent backward,” Lacson exclaimed.

De Lima, at this point, denied all accusations and asked an apology from Gordon for accusing her of material concealment.

Gordon, however, refused to do so.

“I will let you meltdown and have the floor,” he said.

De Lima then walked out of the Session Hall, with Gordon calling such act "cowardice."

Gordon said De Lima may be charged with ethics complaint for hiding significant information from the chamber. He, however, said he would not file the case himself.

“It’s up to those who would file,” he told Rappler after the hearing. – 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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