You could, if you wish, compare the third hearing of Senator Leila de Lima’s committee yesterday to an extra-judicial assassination attempt. Except that it succeeded only in killing the would-be perpetrators, instead of the intended target—or at least in unmasking them.
Edgar Matobato, the witness brought before the Senate panel investigating the recent killings, was a big dud. And the senators behind the move to smear President Rodrigo Duterte (or worse) through the investigation have been, by now, exposed.
The law firm of Drilon, De Lima, Trillanes thought they had a star witness in Matobato, the self-proclaimed former militiaman who claimed to have killed upwards of 50 people on Duterte’s behest (more than 1,000, counting the killings he was involved in, by his count), when the President was still mayor of Davao City. But questioning by Senators Panfilo Lacson and Alan Peter Cayetano quickly revealed Matobato as a poorly-coached liar.
Matobato got off to as flying start, with the sympathetic ministrations of committee chairman De Lima. The witness told a fantastic tale of 200-bullet executions led by Duterte himself, international terrorists, a drugged son of the mayor and cement blocks taped to corpses that were thrown into the sea to make sure they did not float back to the surface.
But the story didn’t have any legs, as they say. Lacson quickly shot holes into Matobato’s tale, especially when the witness dragged the senator’s old unit, the old, disbanded Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, into the controversy.
It was Lacson who first implied that Matobato was lying because he could not get his dates (and other aspects of his story) right. Lacson had to leave for another meeting, according to him—but he started the fire that quickly engulfed the witness and his handlers in the Senate.
Then Cayetano took to questioning the witness and the fur really started to fly. The senator from Taguig boldly made the connection between the members of the Liberal Party in the Senate and the appearance of Matobato.
And Cayetano not only questioned the witness, he also accused De Lima of partiality, Franklin Drilon of complicity and his old former fellow Senate warrior Antonio Trillanes of sneaking up beside him and attempting to bully him into silence.
By the time De Lima declared Cayetano out of order and ordered him restrained by the sergeant-of-arms for accusing her of failing to vet a witness, Matobato’s credibility was as strained as De Lima’s English.
If Matobato is the best that De Lima—who is going to face an ethics investigation herself next week—and her anti-Duterte colleagues can come up with, then Duterte has really nothing to fear. This investigation by De Lima is certainly going nowhere fast.
As for Matobato, perhaps he should return to the monsignor in Pangasinan who has decided to make the ex-Cafgu member his ward. If he really wants to make a confession, perhaps the former Davao hitman needs to practice with an actual priest first, before he returns to the Senate.
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Here I must point out that Trillanes, Duterte’s old tormentor, is once again up to his old tricks. But because Trillanes is now doing battle with his former ally Cayetano, I’d say that the former coup plotter-turned-character assassin has finally met his match.
Cayetano’s protestations about Trillanes’ bullying aside, television cameras clearly caught him calling for the microphone Cayetano was using to be turned off. Trillanes explained that Cayetano, his tag-team partner in previous Senate muckraking expeditions, was “too talkative” and taking too long to get to his point.
I must admit that Cayetano’s new role of defender of the occupant of Malacañang was jarring because it cast him against type. But Duterte, confronted with an opposition that is really composed of lightweights (only figuratively, of course) like De Lima, needs only one Alan Cayetano to fight off all attackers in the chamber.
After all, General “Bato” dela Rosa could really use some air cover to fend off De Lima and her resource persons, including the officials of the Commission on Human Rights who have made it their business to go after Duterte. (Trust Cayetano to point out that the head of CHR, an agency once headed by De Lima herself, was a top LP political operative; it’s as if the appointment of this LP functionary to the rights agency had been preordained in order to repurpose it as the chief thorn on Duterte’s side.)
De Lima was unable to present more witnesses yesterday after Matobato, but she promised to present others when her probe resumes. But by now, I think the pattern has already been established:
Witnesses will make fantastic claims, which will only to be exposed later as fabrications. If there isn’t anything new and substantial that the investigation will turn up, the only people who will remain listening to De Lima will be cheapskate Koreans seeking to learn English by watching her instead of paying money to a real school.