MANILA – The Senate joint inquiry into extra-judicial killings was thrown into turmoil shortly before half past nine Monday (Oct. 3) night, 12 hours after resuming hearings, as star witness Edgar Matobato suddenly left the building just as senators were stunned by revelations that the confessed hitman had concealed material facts from two committees.
The senators chairing the Justice and Public Order committees, Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson, did not hide their anger on being told by the office of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV that Matobato had left the building despite a standing order from Gordon to stay put while the senators were grilliing over a dozen police officers.
Matobato had tagged them as involved with the Davao Death Squad during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte as city mayor.
“We are dealing with a situation here that is very perfidious,” said Gordon, as he banged the gavel, his voice rising as he exchanged angry words with Sen. Leila de Lima, who along with Trillanes had taken up the cudgels for Matobato.
De Lima admitted her “oversight” in failing to inform colleagues that her interview notes with Matobato had included the fact that the hitman was charged with kidnapping for ransom by the live-in partner ofSali Makdum, whom Matobato said was an “international terrorist” that he and members of the death squad had killed.
Gordon said that KFR charge was very material and controverted the most important testimony of Matobato, who took the stand in two previous hearings.
Lacson shouted as well, “we’re accusing Edgar Matobato of fooling this committee, of lying through his teeth!” Lacson added, “we [senators] were all taken for ride.” Trillanes later returned and explained Matobato did not leave the building, and “it was my judgment call” because “I felt his security might be compromised.”
Still, Trillanes did not return Matobato to the building, and insisted that his witness will return to the Senate “tomorrow morning.”
Gordon scolded Trillanes for not having the courtesy to at least inform the chair that he was extracting the witness from the building, even as hearing was still ongoing.
Twenty minutes into the shouting match between de Lima and the two senators (Gordon and Lacson), Trillanes took the floor as he returned and drew attention to page 26 of the Sept. 15 hearing’s transcript, where, he pointed out, Matobato had mentioned something about he having been sued in a case involving Makdum, but where, he said, he did not drag down the alleged DDS members.
Trillanes said that, since the transcript showed Matobato did not hide the fact of having been charged, the committee must “apologize” to de Lima, which caused Gordon’s mood to darken even more.
De Lima said she resented being accused by fellow lawyer Gordon of being accused of “concealment of fact” and added, “There’s nothing to disclose to the body after the witness had disclosed it.”
To which Gordon called her out: “but you were apologizing to us, you were meek as a lamb, trying to explain to us earlier that you forgot to tell us about your notes [about the KFR case against Matobato].”
Gordon said de Lima should have told the committee that, in fact, there was a KFR case already filed by NBI with the prosecutor in Samal.
Cayetano took the floor and said that, while Trillanes was right in pointing to the transcript’s page 26, Matobato had told them only of an NBI case; and neither he nor de Lima informed the committee that in fact, a case had already been filed against Matobato with the Samal prosecutor’s office.
This was material – Gordon, Lacson and Cayetano said – because Matobato had tagged police officer Arthur Lascañas and several others of having murdered Makdum. “The concealment lies in the fact that we were not told that it was even filed with the fiscal,” stressed Cayetano.
Gordon said, stung by de Lima’s walkout, “The point at issue here, is that we’re after the truth here…You can’t accuse the chair of bias,” he said adding that he had bent over backwards to give de Lima all the latitude to grill the police officers accused by Matobato.
He regretted that she walked out at the height of their angry exchange, and shortly after he advised her loudly when she started shouting, “don’t melt down.
You’re melting down.” Maybe, he mused aloud when de Lima had left the room, it’s not even Matobato who is guilty of concealment, but it’s de Lima – a lawyer and former Justice secretary no less – who inexplicably kept the committee in the dark when she must have known the implication of letting Senate probers know that NBI had aleady filed the KFR charge against Matobato.