Witness Says Philippine President Ordered Killings of 1,000

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -

A former Filipino militiaman testified before the country’s Senate on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte, when he was still a city mayor, ordered him and other members of a liquidation squad to kill criminals and opponents in gangland-style assaults that left about 1,000 dead.

Edgar Matobato, 57, told the Senate committee hearing that he heard Duterte order some of the killings, and acknowledged that he himself carried out about 50 deadly assaults as an assassin, including a suspected kidnapper fed to a crocodile in 2007 in southern Davao del Sur province.

Rights groups have long accused Duterte of involvement in death squads, claims he has denied, even while engaging in tough talk in which he stated his approach to criminals was to “kill them all.” Matobato is the first person to admit any role in such killings, and to directly implicate Duterte under oath in a public hearing.

The recent killings of suspected drug dealers have sparked concerns in the Philippines and among U.N. and U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, who have urged Duterte’s government to take steps to rapidly stop the killings and ensure his anti-drug war complies with human rights laws and the rule of law.

Duterte has rejected the criticisms, questioning the right of the U.N., the U.S. and Obama to raise human rights issues, when U.S. forces, for example, had massacred Muslims in the country’s south in the early 1900s as part of a pacification campaign.