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Professed hit man tempers charges of Duterte’s role in Philippine killings

MANILA — A professed hit man who implicated President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines in extrajudicial killings backed off some of his earlier assertions of the president’s involvement under tough questioning Thursday from a Senate committee.

But Edgar Matobato, who said he killed about 50 people as a member of a death squad in Davao City, was unshaken in his testimony that Duterte, as mayor there, presided over about 1,000 killings of criminal suspects and political opponents over more than two decades.

Matobato’s earlier testimony, which has not been independently verified or corroborated elsewhere, was the first to tie Duterte to the killings. Matobato, 57, was called as a witness.

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At times, Matobato, who has a first-grade education, admitted to being perplexed by the barrage of questions from skilled lawyers on the committee.

Under cross-examination, Matobato acknowledged that in specific cases the orders to carry out killings did not come directly from Duterte.

He also admitted that he did not hear Duterte personally order an execution.

But he repeated his testimony from last week that he saw Duterte give orders to the commander of the death squad, a police officer, who then passed on the orders to members of the squad.