All posts by Marichel Kirsten

Policy issues from Matobato’s testimony

On September 15, 2016, the Senate committee on justice and human rights reconvened to continue the legislative inquiry into the alleged extrajudicial killings surrounding the ongoing war on drugs of the Duterte administration. To date, 3,526 people have been killed from drug-related police operations and vigilante killings. 

In the hearing on Thursday, Senator Leila de Lima, committee chair, presented a new resource person by the name of Edgar Matobato.

Matobato claims that he was a former member of the “Davao Death Squad,” a vigilante group based in Davao accused by human rights groups of killing hundreds of suspected criminals in Davao during the time of Rodrigo Duterte as mayor. Note that Matobato was enrolled in the Witness Protection Program (WPP) in 2014. The program does a background check before they take anybody in. 

Inquiry, not a trial

We need to be clear about one thing: trial is one, inquiry is another. The Senate is conducting an inquiry, not a trial. The Senate is not inquiring to determine who is guilty or not. It is inquiring in aid of legislation.

An inquiry is like a research. In research, how do you validate your facts? One way is through triangulation. Validate the information you already have by checking other sources: related literature or secondary materials, other key informants. 

Because the Senate is conducting an Inquiry, Matobato is a resource person or a key informant. The fact that he is an assassin makes him a good resource person to understand vigilante killings. 

When one is doing a research, you do not start from scratch. You read materials about what you are researching. If you read related literature/secondary materials like reports, what Matobato shared fits the narrative. You take it in as a lead to get more information to understand the problem and post solutions. Related secondary materials like reports of human rights groups, papers on Davao/Mindanao history, and the study we conducted that I mentioned in this post are additional points of reference in inferring these points.

Leads to policy recommendations

The testimony of Matobato is rich with information that have policy implications and can therefore aid future legislation. The testimony, for one, is very useful in terms of understanding the anatomy of gun-for-hire groups using as a case the Davao Death Squad (DDS). If analyzed more carefully, it can give us an idea of how to more effectively stop the creation and operation of death squads: what are the gaps in our laws and the capacity needs of relevant institutions.

Below are some points from Matobato’s testimony that can be looked into more closely in coming up with possible policy or institutional reforms moving forward:

1. A death squad is able to operate without being caught nor reprimanded by the police with its goals aligned with that of the government’s (e.g. summary execution of criminals). This is because it is usually headed by a security officer, who is close to the big boss, who in turn is a government official with a vision or policy to carry out. In the case of DDS, it is reportedly headed by a police officer in Davao and the big boss was the mayor, former mayor, and now president, Duterte. It is good to review the generic appreciation of command responsibility and what level of vigilante killings can already be taken against the duty-bearers in a given constituency.

2. There are death squad members who are police officers, but the other members are civilians who usually come from civilian auxiliary units/militias and rebel returnees. In a study conducted by the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) on election-related violence in 2009, we already noted that private armed groups get their recruits from these civilian auxiliary units/militias and former rebels, hence the need to study the relevance of government programs targeting these players.

3. Death squad members can be financed through public funds by becoming ghost employees of the government. According to Matobato, DDS members are “ghost employees” of Davao City Hall receiving between P15,000 to P30,000. Note that some time last year, the Commission on Audit (COA) reported that there are about 11,000 employees in Davao City Hall that could not be accounted for. This shows the link of violence and corruption, with one feeding into the other. 

4. In the case of DDS, according to Matobato, there were more people who got abducted and salvaged than those who got killed/assassinated. The number of casualties of the current war on drugs could be more, and the reporting should also include missing people.

5. The police in Davao never successfully investigated/prosecuted any of the killings despite reaching thousands in numbers. There should be clearer and stronger accountability for government’s failure to investigate and prosecute.

6. Death squad members are doing multiple jobs for their bosses, including as household helpers, couriers, bodyguards, etc. Whenever they have no killing assignment, they do other things. They are all-around. This is consistent with our election-related violence study in Abra in 2009. In our study, we noted that the situation of private armed groups can be traced to lack of employment opportunities especially in conflict areas.

7. Those involved couldn’t get out anymore because they will be hunted down by their own comrades. Matobato wanted out and he was targeted. We need to improve our witness protection and ensure that those who will leave their illegal activities can be given due support and if possible, opportunities for redemption. 


“Extra Judicial Killing”


I have supported President Duterte’s stand against criminals. I understand where he is coming from and we most definitely have to start making sure Filipinos feel safe in the Philippines again. After all, for too long those who break the law would go by unpunished and as a result more and more criminals are emboldened to do as they please because they don’t fear the repercussions. There are many aspects of the president’s solution to violence and crime that I can understand and even support. Placing curfews on teenagers, alcohol consumption, and more are smart preventive measures.

However, having said all that, I don’t believe that “shoot to kill” is the best way to achieve the goal of a safer country. When did fighting fire with fire ever actually work in the long run? There has to be a better middle ground. If the president’s mandate of shoot to kill is followed what we would end up with are even more vigilantes walking the streets with a convoluted sense of ‘wild wild west’ justice. This is not the way to make things safe again. In fact, things might get even more dangerous.

I understand wanting to clean the streets for our families, but turning a blind eye to what is happening right now just because we it feel it doesn’t apply to us is wrong. It might seem that way now, but in the end it will come back to haunt us. What happens when one day it’s someone we love being wrongly accused and gunned out without a proper trial? Or worse, what if we, or someone we love, become collateral damage in a random shoot-out? It’s not far-fetched considering the way people are reacting to the president’s mandate.

“The Blind Side”

“THE BLIND SIDE” Encouraged Me Never To Give Up.

Some movies have the ability to truly affect the audience. These films inspire us, move us, and teach us. For myself, the most influential movie I have seen is “The Blind Side.” The events and traits of Michael Oher brought me to realize the affect of perseverance and dedication. 
To many, Michael Oher was considered a lost cause. His childhood, surrounded by addiction, abuse, and neglect, was unlikely to ever reach success. He bumbled through his youth, being pushed from foster home to foster home, and school was never a good place for him. But when he stumbled across the Tuohy family, his life changed forever. He not only was exposed to love for the first time from his new family members, but the incentive to succeed grew in him. They discovered his incredible ability to play football, but his bad grades in school were an impediment in his path of playing football for his new school. Ignoring his troubled and rocky past, he worked his hardest with the help of others to achieve his educational goals. His determination, dedication, and perseverance helped him to ignore his unfair past and succeed in his future. He went on to play division 1 football.
Michael Oher’s exceeding determination shown bright against his difficult past and carried him very far. The most influential lesson from this movie was that dreams, accompanied with dedication, perseverance, and motivation, are never impossible, despite your past, even if the odds are against you. This lesson is beneficial to remember when I try out for a sports team, take a challenging class, or even doing something courageous. 
An example of this was when I tried out for the high school golf team in middle school. I was very nervous, because I didn’t know anyone. I tried out horribly. I didn’t make the cut and I was scared to try out again the next year as a high schooler. I even considered quitting golf. However, I put the previous year behind me and decided to start new. I tried out much better than last year and now I am on the golf team and I have even gotten varsity playing time. I am glad I didn’t quit.
Looking at the big picture, a mindset of ‘I can’ rather than ‘I can’t’ is very affective. If Michael Oher hadn’t persevered through the hard work of earning better grades (he went from a 0.76 to a 2.52 GPA with the help of his family and tutor), his career would be much different. His successful football career may not have existed. If I give up on goals, I will never know where I could’ve gotten. This movie helped teach me that.

Do Women move on faster than Men?

Personally I don’t believe women move on faster than men from heartbreak. I know many would disagree with that and I understand why they feel that way. You always see situations where the man just won’t let go. It could be years since the breakup and that man is still trying to get her back and make something happen.

Of course we see women struggle too but on the surface they seem to reach a point where they have moved on a lot quicker from the heartbreak. They shed  plenty of tears, and experienced many sleepless nights, but now they have accepted that it’s over.  So why would I still say that women don’t move on faster than men? Are men actually better at letting go? Why isn’t the visual evidence enough for me to change my position?

In my opinion many women eventually learn the skill of “managing their emotions”. They have enough experiences of being emotionally vulnerable that they understand how to deal with them (in a way that they are “comfortable” with). They also learn how to take greater control by not putting themselves in emotionally vulnerable positions. In many cases when that woman experiences heartbreak with a man she is truly in love with (has a deep and genuine connection with him) there is only so much she is willing to deal with emotionally. She has addressed her feelings to a certain extent but she isn’t willing to deal with it anymore and wants to get her “emotional control” back. When she reaches that “this is enough” point it would seem to others that she has moved on. What is actually happening in many cases is that she is simply stuffing her feelings away in an emotional closet. She will then lock the door and find enough distractions (work, kids, another man, etc) to allow her to believe and portray that she is “over it”. In reality the feelings are still there and the right kind of moment/event can bust that door wide open. The thing is other people may never witness when that moment occurs. That woman may do everything in her power to not let anyone see what is going on inside of her (maybe a very close friend will catch a glimpse). She will have her “moment” and then she will proceed to place everything back in that closet, lock the door, and get back to her distractions.

With men it is a little different. Men are not typically raised to be in touch with their emotions and many struggle with learning how to manage them. They are taught to “suck it up” “man up”  and simply suppress what they feel without addressing it at all. Add that to the fact that a lot of men don’t find themselves “in love” with a woman many times in their life. So when it does happen this emotional vulnerability is very foreign and rare to them. So for this to occur and end in heartbreak, the man may find it all very difficult to handle. Some will wear it on their sleeve because they don’t know, haven’t learned, or believe they shouldn’t contain this emotion that they are now experiencing. Others will just attempt to suppress the pain because that is what they know how to do. They will pretty much attempt the same stuffing of the emotional closet that I stated with the women. The difference is when the door bust wide open it is likely to be seen one way or another. They haven’t learned the same “emotional control” that a lot of women have because they are not accustomed to dealing with emotions like this. Not to mention all of the other things they may have already stuffed in their emotional closet. This doesn’t allow for this new situation to stay in it as easily. Basically because women are typically raised to deal with their emotions they learn how to organize their closet. They can keep more tucked away in it without it breaking the door down as quickly and easily. Whereas men are more likely to just throw stuff in there. This creates an inability to keep it all in as consistently and may generate bigger outbursts of emotion (verbal abuse, physical abuse, struggles with heartbreak, etc).

Ultimately I don’t believe either gender recovers faster than the other from heartbreak when it involves a person they had a genuine and deep connection with. I acknowledge that some cases may vary and sometimes the approach can be reversed. For the most part I just believe that men and women handle it differently and it produces different results from what we are able to see. It may seem that a person has “moved on” and on the surface they may have. I believe in many situations if we took a deeper look you would find that the feelings actually still exist and moving on never fully occurred.