Ombudsman drops Duterte from DDS probe

President Duterte

MANILA – A special panel of investigators from the Office of the Ombudsman has dropped President Duterte from among the respondents in the multiple criminal cases filed late last year by self-confessed hit man Edgar Matobato.

The reason for Duterte’s exclusion was not immediately known. The President is immune from suit while in office, but he can be investigated in a criminal case.

In a chance interview on the sidelines of the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards ceremony in Pasay City yesterday, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales confirmed that the fact-finding stage on Matobato’s complaint had been finished and the complaint is now up for formal preliminary investigation.

“I have inhibited myself in the case because one of those who were charged by Matobato was the President. So, naturally, I inhibited. Now, I will confirm that it came to my knowledge that (a) preliminary investigation has been set,” Morales said.

Morales had earlier stated she would inhibit from any investigation by her office against Duterte as she and the President are related by marriage: she is aunt-in-law of Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. Sara’s husband, Manases Carpio, is a son of Morales’ brother Lucas Carpio Jr. and Court of Appeals Justice Agnes Reyes-Carpio.

An insider from the ombudsman, as well as Matobato’s lawyer Jude Josue Sabio, confirmed to The STAR that Duterte was indeed dropped from the case.

During the interview, however, Morales did not say why Duterte was dropped from the complaints.

Sabio said three criminal cases were transmitted by the ombudsman special panel for preliminary investigation – one involves the murder and kidnapping of former soldier Jun Bersabal in 1993, the murder of radio broadcaster Jun Pala in 2003 and the torture of Matobato by a group of policemen led by Senior Police Officer 1 Reynante Medina.

Sabio said that although Duterte was not originally included in Matobato’s torture complaint, the President was named by his client as mastermind in the killings of Bersabal and Pala, which were allegedly carried out by the so-called Davao death squad (DDS), a vigilante group allegedly put up by Duterte during his term as mayor of Davao City.

“I presume it is because of his presidential immunity, which I think does not apply because the criminal incidents happened while he was still mayor,” Sabio said.

“I intend to call out the ombudsman about the non-inclusion of Duterte, because he was directly pointed as the mastermind in the Bersabal and Pala incidents,” he added.

In a complaint he filed in December 2016, Matobato urged the ombudsman to investigate Duterte for possible crimes of murder, kidnapping, complex crime of kidnapping with murder, torture and other crimes against humanity.

This served as the first complaint filed against Duterte since he assumed the presidency on June 30, 2016.

Also included as respondents in Matobato’s original complaint were Duterte’s son Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa and 25 former and incumbent police officers and city government officials.

Sabio said he was not yet privy to the specific individuals who now serve as respondents in the complaints up for preliminary investigation by the ombudsman.

He said he had already filed two motions before the ombudsman asking for a copy of the formal complaints filed by the Ombudsman Special Panel of Investigators for preliminary investigation.