Dela Rosa surprised by De Lima's 'Davao Death Squad' witness

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said he was "surprised" at the testimony of a supposed former member of the "Davao Death Squad" at a Senate probe into the rising killings linked to the government's "war on drugs" on Thursday, September 15.

Dela Rosa, former Davao City police director, denied knowing Edgar Matobato, Senator Leila de Lima's key witness during a Thursday hearing.

Instead of focusing on the current "war on drugs," however, the Thursday hearing focused on the existence of the so-called Davao Death Squad, a group of vigilantes that target criminals in the city. President Rodrigo Duterte, longtime mayor of Davao City, has long been linked to the death squad.

Dela Rosa, whom Duterte handpicked to lead the PNP, said he did not know Matobato personally.

Matobato had previously mentioned Dela Rosa several times in his testimony, as he spoke of supposed targets they killed as supposed members of the Davao Death Squad. Matobato said Duterte himself and later, his son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, ordered several killings in the city.

Duterte was mayor of Davao for several decades before assuming the presidency. Paolo Duterte is current the city vice mayor. 

"Kung totoo man, mayroon bang isang instance na nagkita kayo (If this were true, was there any instance that you saw each other)?" Senator Panfilo Lacson asked Matobato.

The senator said he wanted to test Matobato’s statements by delving into the details of his testimonies. Matobato, upon questioning by Senator Vicente Sotto III, admitted no other witness could corroborate his claims.

"Ako, kilala ko si General Dela Rosa pero hindi kami nag-uusap (I know General Dela Rosa but we have not spoken)," said the witness, drawing laughter from the gallery. 

Matobato said he would tag along whenever a certain "Arthur Lascañas" would speak to Dela Rosa but said he did not interact with the police general himself. 

Dela Rosa was Eastern Mindanao chief of the now-defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) under then President Joseph Estrada. He held the post from 1999 until Estrada was ousted in 2001. 

Lacson grilled Matobato for apparent irregularities in his testimony. The witness claimed that in 2002, they were tasked to kidnap – and later kill – a certain "Sali Makdum," who was supposedly a suspected terrorist. Dela Rosa then was head of PAOCTF, said Matobato.

PAOCTF was under the Presidential Anti Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), and was tasked to monitor "crimes committed by organized/syndicated crime groups, such as kidnapping for ransom, gunrunning, illegal logging, illegal recruitment, carnapping, heinous crimes and crimes committed by government officials and employees." 

However, the task force was formally abolished in 2001 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Lacson headed PAOCTF under Estrada. 

PAOCC continues to exist under the Office of the President. 

Matobato mentioned several names of personnel supposed under PAOCTF but Dela Rosa belied the inclusion of at least one police official in the list. 

De Lima is leading a Senate probe into the apparent rise of killings in the context of the Duterte administration's "war on drugs." Since July 1 this year, police and other law enforcement officials have "intensified" their campaign against illegal drugs. While the campaign has the support of many Filipinos, critics have hit it for supposedly sacrificing due process and the rule of law in the name of eliminating illegal drugs.

More than 1,000 drug suspects have been killed in police operations around the country. Another 2,000 deaths, meanwhile, have been tagged as "deaths under investigation." Dela Rosa clarified that while many of these deaths are those done by apparent vigilante groups, not all of them are drug-related. – Rappler.com