Sen. de Lima stands pat on demand for apology

MANILA — After walking out of the 12-hour Senate inquiry into extrajudicial killings Monday night, Senator Leila de Lima on Tuesday stood by her demand for an apology from some senators for accusing her of committing ‘material concealment’.

“I‘m waiting for an apology from my colleagues. I don’t understand why they can quickly accuse me of committing some form of material concealment,” de Lima told reporters in an interview.

Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon accused de Lima of committing material concealment during the hearing for allegedly withholding information that witness and self-confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) hitman Edgar Matobato had been charged over a kidnap-for-ransom case in 2000.

De Lima explained that she did not remember if Matobato had mentioned the kidnap-for-ransom case during the hearing so she told them that Matobato may or may not have mentioned it. She however said that she had the detail in her notes.

She said she was not sure Matobato had mentioned it because at the back of her mind, it was possible he said it or did not. Gordon however took this as material concealment.

Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, who had protective custody of Matobato, defended de Lima by reading parts of the transcript that proved that Matobato indeed mentioned it twice in his previous testimony.

“Since it was disclosed already by Mr. Matobato, where is the concealment on my part? There was no concealment nor was there nothing to conceal because that fact was already disclosed by the witness. Why is it my fault when it’s already on record?” de Lima said.

She blamed Gordon, chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, for not checking facts from the previous hearings but refused to say anything negative against her colleague to avoid creating further animosity or hostility.

Nothing to hide

The former justice secretary also said that she was offended by Gordon insisting that she and Trillanes were responsible for Matobato’s sudden exit from the Senate premises to allegedly “hide something” from them.

While Trillanes admitted that he allowed Matobato’s exit, de Lima said she did not know that the witness had already left.

De Lima noted that it was Trillanes’ judgment to send Matobato off because it was late evening and they needed to extricate Matobato out since it was no longer safe, especially while the people he identified as alleged DDS members — former and current Davao City police personnel — were there.

“In the minds of those guys securing Mr. Matobato, it’s no longer safe. That’s the explanation of Sen. Sonny. Then they are accusing us of that deliberated we sent Matobato out because we are hiding something, when in the first place there is nothing to hide because it’s already in the transcript,” she added.

After Gordon refused to apologize for accusing de Lima of material concealment, the latter stormed out, saying she felt like her fellow senators were “ganging up on her”.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, like Gordon, said that he felt outsmarted by Matobato who had only finished Grade 1.

De Lima meanwhile lamented how Gordon and Lacson seemed not to believe Matobato and took every opportunity to point out inconsistencies in his testimony.

She also expressed hope that the hearings on the spate of extrajudicial killings will not be affected because it would be “a travesty of truth and justice” if it would.

Sixteen out of more than 20 police officers from Davao City allegedly linked to the DDS were present at the Senate inquiry into extrajudicial killings on Monday.

The Davao City cops, who were previously members of the city’s Heinous Crimes Division, were cited by Matobato in a previous hearing as responsible for unresolved killings in the city.

Matobato claimed that these Davao City cops took orders from then mayor now President Rodrigo Duterte.

Pride and prejudice

In a separate interview, Trillanes said that he found it unfortunate that Gordon seemed to be too “proud” to admit about forgetting that Matobato previously mentioned his kidnap-for-ransom case.

“It’s pride. They (Gordon and Matobato) had the exchange. We cannot feign ignorance. If he says it’s a memory lapse, we can tell him, if you can have memory lapse, why can’t Matobato have a memory lapse as well?” Trillanes said referring to Matobato’s alleged “inconsistencies” that were repeatedly cited by a number of senators.

“He should be man enough to admit that he made a mistake. He falsely accused a member of the committee, and now that we show him the truth, he lets his pride take over. His bias shows,” he added.

Trillanes said that he also found it suspicious how Gordon sought for Matobato in the hearing past 8:30 p.m. when he was no longer in the Senate premises when he earlier suggested as early as 9:00 a.m. to have Matobato face the other witnesses.

He claimed that Gordon could have assumed Matobato would not be able to recognize the alleged DDS members but when the DDS members admitted that they knew Matobato, he had to have a change in plans.

“I was asking them (senators) to have Matobato face the other witnesses but they didn’t want to do it. That’s why they asked the policemen to attend because they were confident that Matobato would not recognize them. When the police said they knew (him), they needed to change plan. So they didn’t let them face each other,” Trillanes said.

He said they had Matobato wait from 7 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. until Matobato’s security officer recommended that the witness leave since he had a long trip and it was dangerous for him to travel.

The senator said that after he had allowed Matobato’s exit, that was the time Gordon sought for him.

“(Matobato) was here the whole day. What’s the fuss about? They falsely accused Senator de Lima, which was very unfair, but when they were embarrassed, they tried to find a hole in the plan,” he said.

Trillanes further said that if there was a witness who seemed to be fooling them, it was SPO3 Arthur Lascañas, alleged DDS leader and alleged right-hand man of President Duterte, who was caught lying about a watch he had given Matobato as a gift.

He maintained that even if Gordon and a few other senators continued to “suppress the truth”, it would eventually find its way out. Azer Parrocha/