Written By: TJ
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Edgar Matobato is a Filipino self-confessed serial killer and hitman, who claimed to be a former member of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS), a vigilante group whose task is to eliminate criminals, critics, and political opponents of the current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. Matobato gained international attention on 15th September 2016, confessing in front of the Philippine senate, that he took part in killing more than 300 people, killing around 50 himself, all throughout his 25-year service as a DDS member.
Early Years of Edgar
Edgar Matobato y Bernal was born in 1959 in Davao. Raised in a poor family of forest rangers residing at Mt. Apo, Edgar was only able to reach 1st grade, technically making him an illiterate person up to his old age. In spite of this, Edgar got a decent job as a cook before becoming an officer tasked to maintain peace and order under Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), but cut short as the unit was disbanded due to human rights abuses.
At age 18, he watched his father brutally killed by supposed members of New People’s Army (NPA) as they searched their house looking for guns. Edgar’s father tried to talk to them nicely and give what they want, but his pleas fell on deaf ears as the armed men beheaded him in front of his son. Edgar witnessed his father’s death as the NPA paraded the poor man’s head on a wooden stake in their backyard.
This particular event in his life had detrimental effects on how he views the world. It has become imprinted on his mind that he needs to avenge his father and seek justice for the latter’s death.
Unravelling a Hitman’s Life
Edgar started another work as a “ghost employee” under city hall’s Civil Security Unit (CSU). His job was described as watching over markets, schools, and terminals for safety measure, although his real job is nowhere near that.
Edgar claimed to have actually been part of an infamous vigilante group called Davao Death Squad (DDS) from 1988 to 2013, which was allegedly run by President Rodrigo Duterte. Their task was to cleanse the city of criminals, no matter how big or small their crimes are. Eventually, as Duterte climbs on higher political power, DDS also aimed at bigger targets such as journalists and political opponents who are critical of Duterte.
A nondescript nylon bag is all Edgar needs to execute his bloody missions. It contains papers where names and addresses of the targets are written, and a gun to get his hands dirty. “I’m usually dressed in shorts, loose shirt, and slippers. It’s how I could get away from killing someone,” said Edgar during a secret interview. “When I’m close enough to a target, I can give him one in the head, one in the heart and casually walk away.” Edgar took pride in his job. “They were bad people, they deserve to die,” he thought as he continued to kill people as service to the president.
For his loyalty to the job, Edgar earns $130 per month, an amount enough to feed his family but quite not enough to sell his dignity. However, Edgar gained brotherhood among his DDS colleagues, particularly with Arturo Lascañas, his handler who gives him direct orders from the president.
The two would round the streets at night, looking for targets. “Sometimes, I would slit bellies and chests and fill them with sand before dumping them at sea,” Edgar said as he recollects the gruesome details of his years at DDS. “I would pour cooking oil or used oil from trucks over them to stop the stench of rot and decay.” He added that high-profile targets are usually kidnapped and buried while the petty criminals are shot in the crowd usually by motorcycle tandem with no plate numbers.
The highlights of Edgar’s career include hurling a grenade to a Muslim Mosque in 1993 in revenge of bombing a Catholic Cathedral in Davao. In 2002 he strangled a foreign militant to death and the year after that, he took part in the assassination of a journalist critical of Duterte.
In 2013, Edgar’s conscience was pricked by 3 young women who were abducted for allegedly selling drugs. These women were sexually harassed by getting their genitals touched and played with. Then they were blindfolded before being stabbed repeatedly.
The victims were mere drug suspects and killing them that way didn’t seem right, Edgar thought. He realized that he doesn’t want to be part of DDS anymore. He wanted to come clean and put light to Duterte’s agenda by testifying against him. He wanted to apologize for all the lives he took by justifying them. But Edgar should’ve known better.
His brothers in DDS turned on him. In 2014, while Edgar was asleep, he was roused by armed men whom he recognized as part of the shadowy vigilante group. They abducted Edgar, put him in a specialized jail where they could abuse him by beating him or not feeding him. Edgar was then freed because of his wife’s pleas to the DDS. He knew, however, that the moment he steps out of their grips, he would be marked dead.
So he ran. And ran. He jumped from different cities and provinces, asking for help and protection. But no one really took him in. It was that one fateful day, few days before his birthday, that he found a small statue of Virgin Mary among the garbage that he was taking out. “Who would throw away such object that sacred,” he asked himself, and he took it as a final sign that things could be better.
In September 2014, Edgar Matobato finally went to the Department of Justice (DOJ), where he introduced himself as a former member of DDS who wanted to confess everything. They let him in and escorted him to the Witness Protection Program (WPP), lawyer Martin Meñez, who was DOJ secretary Leila De Lima’s head executive assistant, started asking questions.
For 4 days, Edgar was repeatedly telling his story at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and on the 5th day, he was taken to a safe house. Soon, Edgar found himself being interrogated by the senate of the Philippines, Senator Leila De Lima presiding over. Edgar bravely left WPP to speak in front of the committee, and there, he narrated to the whole nation the bloody inner works of a controversially clean governance in Davao.
Edgar alleged the president as the mastermind for the killings of hundreds of people. According to him, almost all the murders in Davao were perpetrated by the DDS. In some cases, however, when the target is a very important individual, Edgar said that Duterte even held the gun and did the dirty work himself.
Those who have heard these confessions were either shocked or incredulous. Duterte’s running mate, Alan Cayetano, tagged it as hearsay. Another senator Jose Calida said it was a political harassment against Duterte. On the other hand, Senator De Lima and Senator Trillanes believed Edgar about his stories. There was only one person who could justify his allegations, and that is Arturo Lascañas, his blood brother from the DDS group.
Lascañas first denied these allegations, and even told the senate that he barely knew Edgar. A statement Edgar saw as a complete betrayal. Months later in February 2017, Senator Trillanes grilled Lascañas, and the latter finally succumbed to truth. “The Davao Death Squad or DDS exists. Edgar is a member and I am one of the co-founders,” he told Trillanes as he filled in the blanks left by Edgar’s earlier testimony.
Dead Men Running
After that interview, Edgar Matobato jumped up and down in his safe house. His name has finally been cleared. Whereas Lascañas went into hiding, and only resurfaced to give more interviews and media appearance. That same year, Lascañas quietly left the country to go to Singapore, he said he feared for his life and safety, “I know the consequences of my confessions. I am a dead man running.”
Two years into safety protection, Edgar knew it was also his time to run away when Duterte became the imminent winner of the 2016 presidential elections. Appointees of the then President Benigno Aquino III including Meñez and De Lima knew it was no longer safe, so they started to leave one by one.
When asked what will he say to Duterte if given the chance to talk to him, answer was plain and simple. “This is all I can say, I am a real person. I keep my word. I will accept whatever others think of me, but I will not go to jail. I will kill myself. I will not allow myself to go to jail.”
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