Palace: Complaint filed by Matobato lawyer ‘baseless’
A criminal case was filed against President Rodrigo Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands for his alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings when he was still mayor of Davao City, and now as President of the Philippines.
In the 77-page communication submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, Jude Sabio, lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, accused Duterte of violating the Articles of the Rome Statute through mass murder or extrajudicial executions, which, he claimed, constituted crimes against humanity.
Duterte allegedly committed the crimes during his tenure as mayor of Davao City, through his personal involvement in the so-called Davao Death Squad, and now as President of the Philippines through his war on drugs.
The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the ICC, the first permanent international court that is capable of trying perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression—the statute’s four core international crimes.
The Philippines is a state party to the Rome Statute, together with other 123 state parties, after ratifying it in August 2011.
Apart from Duterte, 11 of his allies including two senators were also charged for violating provisions of the Rome Statute.
Others facing charges at the ICC are Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Richard Gordon, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd, Police National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald de la Rosa, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, Supt. Edilberto Leonardo, Senior Police Officer 4 Sanson “Sonny” Buenaventura, Supt. Royina Garma, National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gierran, and Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Sabio said Gordon, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of Senate Committee Report No. 18196 on the spate of summary execution of suspected drug trader, is liable for “ultimately concluding that killings are not state-sponsored.”
He added that Cayetano aided and abetted the killings “through his speeches and public pronouncements.”
Sabio cited in his complaint the similarities in the killings in Davao City and in the drug war.
“The basic material hallmarks or elements in the extrajudicial executions by the Davao Death Squad in Davao City and in the continued extrajudicial executions after President Duterte became the President are too numerous and too obvious to escape scant attention,” he said.
He noted the presence police participation and command; the element of a hitman or an unknown armed assailant; the establishment of a reward system for every killing; the existence of a kill watch list; collaboration between barangay (village) and police officials; cardboard signs and faces or bodies wrapped in packing tape; the use of motorcycle-riding assailants; and planting of guns and drugs.
Sabio said Duterte had completely ignored the appeals of local and international human rights groups and other international bodies to stop the killings.
Also, Duterte’s officials and allies have become instruments in covering up the issue in the media and congressional investigations.
“It is for these reasons that I have referred this case to the ICC to make President Duterte accountable for his crimes in the name of international criminal justice, and to once and for all end this dark, obscene, murderous and evil era in the Philippines,” Sabio said.
After filing the case, the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will determine whether it falls within the jurisdiction of the ICC and if it is proper to file criminal charges against the accused, before investigating the case and issuing a warrant of arrest against the President and other respondents.
Palace: Complaint ‘baseless’
Malacañang on Monday dismissed as “baseless” the complaint filed against President Duterte before the ICC in The Hague.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella suspected that the filing of the case was “meant to create negative news” amid the Philippines’ hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
“It cannot prosper. International Criminal Court rules provide that the ICC, as a court of last resort, will only exercise jurisdiction over a case once legal remedies in the Philippines have been exhausted. Atty. Sabio or his client, Mr. Edgardo Matobato, did not avail/exhaust all domestic remedies allowed under the Philippine Constitution,” Abella said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said such complaint would not flourish because there was no basis to allege that Duterte had ordered the extrajudicial killings.
Panelo noted that under the international treaty, murder should have been committed against a class of people, which was not the case in Sabio’s complaint.
“It is not a state-sponsored war in respect to the extrajudicial killings. The [extrajudicial killings]come up because of members of the syndicates who are killing each other, they’re spilling the beans against their own comrades. Those in danger of being prosecuted and arrested would necessarily silence those who are pointing fingers at them,” he told reporters.
“Even assuming that there is police participation in these killings, the police records would show that those who have abused their authority were charged in court. That will negate the claim that it is state-initiated. Otherwise they would have not been charged,” he added.
Matobato last year confessed before the Philippine Senate that he was part of the so-called Davao Death Squad, which was allegedly formed by Duterte to eliminate political opponents and drug addicts.
The ICC complaint was based on the testimonies of Matobato, retired policeman Arturo Lascañas, media reports and reports from rights groups.
Almost 9,000 people have been killed since Duterte assumed the presidency in June 2016.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE