TIME Philippines

Philippine President Duterte ‘Ordered Extrajudicial Killings When He Was a Mayor’

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STR—AFP/Getty Images Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center left, poses with military personnel during a visit to a military camp in the Philippine town of Jolo, Sulu province, in the southern island of Mindanao, on Aug. 12, 2016

The claim is being made by a witness at a Senate inquiry

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ran a death squad during his two decades as mayor of Davao City, unleashing it on political opponents as well as criminals, an alleged member of the squad testified in a Senate hearing on Thursday.

Edgar Matobato, 57, told the hearing — part of an inquiry being conducted by Senator Leila de Lima — that he conducted at least 50 operations during his time with the death squad and witnessed Duterte order killings himself, the Associated Press reports.

Duterte has been dogged by allegations of extrajudicial killings during his 22 years as mayor, and has adopted contradictory stances on them, officially denying involvement while also boasting that he was responsible for “1,700” deaths as opposed to the 700 documented by human-rights groups.

Read next: The Killing Time: Inside Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs

The allegations have now followed him into the country’s highest office, and been renewed thanks to his merciless war on drugs in which over 3,000 people have been killed since July. The drug war is the primary focus of de Lima’s inquiry, in which Matobato testified on Thursday. Duterte’s spokesperson Martin Andanar refuted Matobato’s testimony, saying previous government inquiries into Duterte’s mayoral tenure yielded no evidence of wrongdoing.

According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Matobato also said Duterte had ordered a hit on de Lima herself, when she visited Davao in 2009. The Senator, who previously served as Secretary of Justice and chaired the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, has been the President’s staunchest critic since he took office at the end of June this year.

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