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Did the Philippine President Once Execute a Man With an Uzi?

Did the Philippine President Once Execute a Man With an Uzi?

After an absurdly controversial irruption onto the international political scene, there’s little Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte can say or do that will come as a surprise.

He’s already used a local variant of “son of a bitch” to describe U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. ambassador to Manila, and even the Pope. He’s threatened to leave the United Nations, and toyed with booting U.S. troops from the archipelago. And he said he would have his own children executed if they were caught doing drugs.

But if there is one thing that could still alarm the international community about Duterte’s past, it might just be allegations that he once executed a Philippine Justice Department employee with an Uzi submachine gun.

Speaking to the Philippine Senate at a hearing intended to probe extrajudicial killings in the country, where more than 3,000 suspected drug users have been killed since Duterte took office this summer, one witness said the president used the Uzi to kill a justice department official in 1993.

Edgar Matobato, a self-described former member of what he called a vigilante killing squad that used to operate in Duterte’s hometown, told lawmakers at the hearing that he and other members of the armed group shot and injured the justice department official, named only as Jamisola, after an argument at a roadblock in the city. When Duterte, who was mayor at the time, arrived at the scene, Matobato said, he “emptied two Uzi magazines on him.”

Our job was to kill criminals like drug pushers, rapists, snatchers,” he said of his group, which he claimed operated during the time Duterte served multiple terms as mayor between 1988 and 2016.

Under Duterte’s leadership on the southern island city of Davao, crime dramatically fell — in part, critics say, due to his endorsement of extrajudicial killings.

But on Thursday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said Matobato was “obviously not telling the truth” about Duterte killing an official with an Uzi.

And Duterte’s spokesman, Martin Andanar, said that Philippine officials had trouble even proving the death squad existed — let alone that Duterte sanctioned it.

Photo credit: Jeoffrey Maitem/NurPhoto via Getty Images