Hitman alleges Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte killed a justice department official

Hitman alleges Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte killed a justice department official
Source: AP
Source: AP

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte personally killed a justice official and ordered numerous other killings, confessed hitman Edgar Matobato in a nationally televised senate hearing Thursday.

Matobato, 57, also alleged Duterte ordered assassinations, which involved chopping up bodies and feeding a man to a crocodile. 

The killings allegedly targeted suspected criminals as part of an initiative to improve the safety and reputation of the Filipino city of Davao during the more than 20 years Duterte served as mayor. Matobato was reportedly a member of the vigilante Davao Death Squad, which killed about 1,000 people from 1988-2013.  

Edgar Matobato testifies during a senate hearing.
Source: Noel Celis /Getty Images

"Our job was to kill criminals like drug pushers, rapists, snatchers," Matobato said, according to the BBC

The hitman said other crimes involved murdering people affiliated with a mosque in Davao after a Roman Catholic church was bombed in 1993. The deceased were allegedly thrown into the ocean with deep lacerations so as to be eaten by marine life. 

"They were killed like chickens," Matobato said.

Duterte ran for president on the promise he would wage an aggressive war on drugs. But, since assuming office, his approach has sparked controversy, involving vigilantism and extrajudicial killings — he even offered medals to citizens who killed drug dealers. As a warning to citizens, bodies of the slain have been left strewn across the streets with signs on them which say, for example, "I'm a pusher."

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
Source: Bullit Marquez/AP

The president's war on drugs is largely driven by the killing of suspected drug dealers and users — so far, more than 3,000 are dead. 

Thursday's hearing was led by Duterte's long-time critic, Senator Leila de Lima, who is also chairwoman of the committee on justice and human rights. 

In turn, Duterte has run a retaliative smear campaign, alleging de Lima had an affair with her driver who senatorial candidate Sandra Cam said helped collect drug money for the senator's campaign. De Lima has staunchly denied these accusations. 

"What De Lima and this certain Matobato say in public are bare allegations in the absence of proof: They are mere hearsay," said Davao's Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, the president's son who was also implicated in Matobato's testimony, according to Al Jazeera.

"I will not dignify with an answer the accusations of a madman," he added.