Edgar Matobato: Death squad killer on the run could bring down Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte's macabre death squad once raped and killed three women accused of dealing in a local drug.

Edgar Matobato: Death squad killer on the run could bring down Rodrigo Duterte
Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed former hitman, answer questions during a Reuters interview inside a safehouse in metro Manila, Philippines September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Edgar Matobato, a former Davao Death Squad (DDS) member, has emerged as the biggest threat yet to the political future of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Matobato has openly admitted to killing scores of people on the orders of the current president, who is under investigation by the national human rights commission for the extra judicial killings he ordered while he was the mayor of Davao city.

Matobato, the trusted hitman for Duterte, led killing campaigns that targeted drug pushers, rapists and other criminals during the infamous period between 1988 and 2013. He revealed recently that he realised that he was committing "unspeakable crimes" after the current president ordered the kidnapping and killing of four body guards and associates of a political rival in later years.

Another macabre crime he revealed the DDS committed was the rape and brutal killing of three women who had been accused of dealing in a local drug. Matobato now admits that a lot of the victims of the killing campaigns were innocent and poor people, and sometimes they were the political rivals of his boss.

"Our work was to kill criminals like drug pushers, rapists, snatchers ... Those were the people we killed every day," Matobato told the Philippines Senate in September.

However, Duterte has denied the charges of his former aide and said he will face the Senate investigation into the extra judicial killings.

"Everybody talks about the death squad ... There is the Philippines National Police. That's the authority. The death squad, the Davao Death Squad that people are talking about -- this is all legend. It's a legend. There is no death squad. There is the police and there is (the) AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)," Martin Andanar, Duterte's press secretary told CNN Philippines.

However, Matobato has vivid memories of the gory past and clear details of the atrocities. He has said the death squad, which had as many as 300 members at its peak, killed more than 1,400 people. He said he has personally terminated at least 50 people under the orders of Duterte, who vowed to cleans the city of criminals, drug pushers and rapists.

Matobato, who now has an arrest warrant and is in hiding fearing for his own life, says he is ready to face retribution. He says his former colleagues in DDS would kill him if they find him. "I don't care anymore if they want to kill ... What I want to do now is to tell the truth and not to lie anymore."

The former hitman has also revealed that Duterte did not only target the rapists and drug dealers but political rivals and the Muslim rebels as well. He said that in 1993, when the city's cathedral was bombed, Duterte ordered the death squad to attack a mosque and kill Muslims in retribution.

Matobato also adds credence to the popular belief that the president personally had blood on his hands and carried out murders at whim. He revealed Duterte once killed a national investigation agency officer during an incident of road rage. The president emptied two full magazines into the agent, Matobato recalled.

After Duterte became president, more than 3,000 people have been killed in anti-drug operations. The killings have taken place in Manila as well, and Matobato says the illegal deaths bear the hallmarks of the vigilante killings in Davao.

"Members of the DDS are already ... in Manila ... The policemen in Davao City are capable of killing... They don't have a soul, these members from Davao," he says.

The 72-year-old president has repeatedly said the drug suspects were only killed under his anti-drug crackdown as mayor. But, now his own admissions to murders have left him open to impeachment, according to the Philippine senators.

"That is betrayal of public trust and that constitutes high crimes because mass murders certainly fall into the category of high crimes. And high crimes is a ground for impeachment under the constitution," Leila de Limam, a staunch critic of Duterte, said earlier this month.

Amnesty International said in a statement that such remarks by Duterte will incite policemen and civilians towards violence and encourage them to commit extrajudicial killings.