ICC mass murder complaint puts Duterte in the dock of history



LET us put to one side, just for a moment, the question of whether the complaint filed with the International Criminal Court by lawyer Jude Josue Sabio, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte and 11 officials of mass murder and crimes against humanity, has any hope of succeeding. Whatever happens, the submission of a 77-page document titled “The situation of mass murder in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte: the mass murderer” is, without doubt, a brave move that signals a heartening new boldness among those who oppose Duterte’s crazed war against drugs. Whether or not Duterte’s lethal campaign is thwarted, the complaint is a landmark case that will influence the way analysts—historians, political scientists, sociologists—in the future understand what is happening today. Sabio and his complaint, in other words, will not be ignored by history when it comes to judging the Duterte presidency.

If we tune out the howling histrionics of Duterte’s fanatical devotees on social media (the chorus line that never tires of repeating the cliché of conspiracy and destabilization plots), reactions have been a dismal mix of bombast, derision and cautious circumspection. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd was quick to cast aspersions on Sabio, claiming the lawyer acted out of greed and self-interest; police chief Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa went for the baldly crude denial: “There are no mass murders and there are no state-sponsored killings in the Philippines,” he said; and President Duterte’s predictably brusque dismissal relied on the notion that he is untouchable.

On the other hand, those who intuit the beginnings of a shift in public opinion on the President’s war on drugs—three-quarters of voters now disagree with the killing of suspects and only a quarter say they trust the police—view the complaint as rash and premature. But biding time in the hope that the public will be persuaded sooner rather than later to withdraw its support, doesn’t seem the right thing to do in the face of an unrelentingly callous administration with an insouciant disregard for truth and human life, and a death toll that is climbing ever upwards—it has risen to 9,000 by some counts.

On close reading, Sabio’s mass murder complaint turns on the startling key allegation that Duterte has been responsible for committing crimes against humanity since 1988. “The situation in the Philippines,” Sabio writes, “reveals a terrifying, gruesome and disastrous continuing commission of extra-judicial executions from the time President Duterte was the mayor of Davao City through his Davao Death Squad up to the time that he became the President after June 30, 2016 in his war on drugs at the national level.” Sabio claims that throughout this period no one has been held accountable for the killings and, even more damning, all those in a position of authority, from the police to local and national government, have demonstrated a gross inability or an unbending unwillingness to conduct investigations. The recent shambolic Senate inquiries are depicted as travesties. Duterte, he asserts, was the leader, financier, and mastermind of the Davao Death Squads in Davao City. Further, he accuses Duterte of having managed to institute and condone a “strategy or system of killing suspected criminals” with there being “no distinction between police drug operations resulting in deaths and vigilante killings.”

Sabio’s claims are built on the bedrock of sources that have now become familiar to us all and are accessible to us all for fact-checking. There is the blog of a priest, Fr. Amado Picardal, who kept a meticulous record of Davao Death Squad killings; local and international newspaper reports; findings from the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, field work by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; and, most explosive of all, the sworn testimonies of the self-confessed killers Edgar Matobato, whom Sabio represents as defense counsel, and Matobato’s superior, former policeman Arturo Lascañas. Between these two assassins, a hundred or so people have been murdered. Then there are Duterte’s own words, his homicidal incitements to mass violence and murder which Sabio believes reveal a pathological mental state.

Tallying up extra-judicial murders with any degree of precision will always prove to be fiendishly difficult. Police estimates and murder categories, Sabio has found, are as changeable as the weather. Throughout December 2016, “deaths under investigation” was the police designation of choice for killings by unknown hitmen. By March 2017, the label was scrapped in favor of “murder cases under investigation”. Both sound like euphemisms. At any rate, the total number of drug-related killings stood at 7,000at the time of his writing. Taking that figure as a benchmark, Sabio reckons that if the killings continue unabated to the end of Duterte’s term, which is what Duterte has vowed, around 72,000 people will have been slaughtered.

It could very well take years to appreciate the Sabio document and its place in history. If and when warrants of arrest are issued, Duterte may no longer be President or may have even passed away. Take for example the case known as Aberca v Ver. In 1983, a group of human rights lawyers led by José W. Diokno and Rene Saguisag brought a suit against some of the most ruthless members of the dictator Marcos’ state security forces. Acting on behalf of torture victims, the lawyers accused General Fabian Ver, Lieutenant Colonel Panfilo Lacson and others of gross human rights violations. A handful of years later, by which time Marcos had been deposed, lived in exile and was near death, the Supreme Court found in favor of the victims. The ruling that was handed down is today hailed as a clear indictment of the Marcos dictatorship. “In times of great upheaval or of social and political stress, certain basic rights and liberties are immutable and cannot be sacrificed to the transient needs or imperious demands of the ruling power. The rule of law must prevail, or else liberty will perish.”

Jude Sabio’s complaint tells the world that his country is in the grip of a remorseless President who is quite possibly unhinged, of craven, corrupt, morally bankrupt politicians and lawmakers who operate with impunity, of contorted thinking, and of an evil terror. This extraordinary document will make it more difficult to airbrush away the cruelty and the blood.

For now, Duterte can still think he is accountable to no one. But there is no escaping the judgment of history.



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  1. The Rome Statute of the ICC “overrides any claim of immunity” for heads of states and there is arguably no immunity from persecution before International Tribunal’s under customary international law. What this means is, because formal charges have been filed against Duterte before the ICC for crimes against humanity and war crimes against his own people and others, Duterte can be arrested if he “travels through international airspace.”

    The ICC has issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir for masterminding the death of thousands of his own people in Darfur by government troops and militias. Because Pres. Al-Bashir is the head of state of Sudan, it is unlikely that he will be arrested by his own state or his military, but if he travels outside of Sudan, he will be arrested by the ICC.

  2. dating kriminal on

    POLITICS and more POLITICS….Let me point out how politicians can twist words and use them to their advantage. Here is a simple paragraph extracted from this article: ” Extra Judicial killings have been the chief Human Rights concern in the country for many years and they increased over the past year.”

    By definition, Extra Judicial Killings is a government sponsored activity that encourage its citizens to kill people or their fellow citizens that do, think, or believe differently from the rest of the society. These morons in the U.S. Congress wanted to let the less educated Filipinos to know that EKJ have existed in the Philippines for so many years and they are alarmed because there were “increased” of EKJ over the past year. They made it sound like EJK have been a normal practice in the Philippines, and they are alarmed because casualties have increased?

  3. Filipinos want their families to be safe. I personally cannot sleep until all my children are at home. And I always pray for their safety against the drug addicts who kill innocent people for a few hundreds and rape babies. That is why we wish Duterte to succeed. It is unfortunate people, including journalists, will do everything for money. We support Duterte because he is our last hope.

  4. I agree with author Rachel. As a journalist myself, I know how massive propaganda could manipulate the thinking of gullible admirers of an “idol”. As in the days of Hitler, so it is in Duterte’s. It would probably take a post-Duterte era for truth to come out.
    Remember when Marcos was President? He transformed the independent media into his propaganda machinery echoing change under a New Republic or Bagong Lipunan. It was not until his last days that the nation realized it was “mabahong lipunan”.

  5. You seem to give too much importance to A certain lawyer Sabio. Do you know him personally? He seems to be engross in making himself known so its not far fetch that he did it to be known for political purpose.

  6. fidel fernandez on

    disagree with you rachel… You said “it is without a doubt a brave move” It is not a brave move, rather a desperate move of his political opponents. ” that signals a heartening new boldness among those who oppose Duterte’s crazed war against drugs. ” heatening… what? i disagree again, rather, it signals a heartpounding extreme fear of the rusty steel grills and cold sticky cement floors of prison- for those who have in their hands the guilt of putting the Philippines and the Filipinos as slaves to corruption, drugs and criminalilty. Long live the Philippines.

  7. The complainant is no other than the fake VP , who herself would do anything to attain power. and someone is behind her is a foreigner just like her, plus a former President who dislike President Duterte

  8. Ramil Lopez on

    Where is this author getting her figures? Did she even check the death count in the 6 years of Benigno Aquino the Turd? 77,000+ killings. Yes that is over seventy- seven thousand killings in six years of the Aquino administration. Many of them were not even drug pushers, traffickers or addicts. Many of them were Lumad, journalists, farmers, villagers, soldiers and SAF. How much was the author paid with drug money to come up with this article? From the same deep, dirty pockets where Rappler, Inquirer, ABS CBN and New York Times are getting paid?

  9. Sabio’s complaint was not history-making. It was a biased account of the drug war of Duterte by a paid hack of the Liberal Party and its oligarch friends. It is going nowhere and in a short period of time will be forgotten for being bereft of truthfullness and full of black propaganda. Please do not give the mouse Sabio too much credit by making him appear to be a lion. He may be smaller than a mouse for all we know.

  10. Amnata Pundit on

    The orgasm the yellows are currently savoring, or what passes for it among this demented class, in the wake of this ICC case is not enough to compensate for the constipation they are suffering because somebody like Duterte is the president. Their pain will continue even after Duterte is gone from the scene because Bongbong is just waiting to take over, and after him you have Ping Lacson or Tito Sotto or Manny Pacquiao or all of them in succession. While they are waiting for the harsh judgment of history to fall on Digong, what they refuse to acknowledge is that God has rendered His judgement of the yellowturds for their shameless hypocrisy and pathological mediocrity, and is already the delivering the appropriate punishment: waiting for Godot while writhing in pain in the toilet. By the way, did you know that Cory died of colo-RECTAL cancer?

  11. Gloria Mota on

    Clap clap clap! Ang pagkakaalam ko eh si Lascañas lang ang nag ke-claim na may death threat at hindi si Sabio, paanong naging “BRAVE” yung ginagawa ni Sabio sa Netherlands? Ngayon ko lang nalaman na comedian ang witer na ito. Tapos 1988? Panahon ni Cory yun ah and I think DU30 recieved greater favor kay Cory during those time as he is purging Davao from rebels and terrorist.

  12. manuel monarca on

    Why these people are really too desperate of unseating the President of the Philippines? Which in fact some previous president have had more violations done during their previous life also ex. Ramos. During Martial law how many people had been victimized and disappeared? But nobody questioned him…why because when he won the election as President he did not touched the corrupts, criminals, drug lords and the likes. So there is silent of the lambs by that time. Now that President Duterte is very vocal in his advocacy to eradicate these criminals, drugs the corrupts and the likes they are very noisy of destroying the President and even brought it internationally in spite of majority of the Filipino were satisfied with his performance. Let us assume that he made mistakes before he was elected as President, then it has nothing to do with his position now cause all those accusation was done before his term. And about EJK, it was already done by other previous administration and concealed, it was only in this Duterte’s Term highlighted because those who’ve done it before was already exposed and they wan to ride on the media hypes so that Duterte will be blamed on this scenario and scat free from the hands of law and blamed it on Duterte, which in fact, it is already existing even in the time of “majuma” kasabihan”. What the President desire, is to have a reform government, a real change, he is already old and he want to see every Filipino safe and prosperous in his own country. That is why he talked tough to instill discipline and peace and order in our native land. Just like a father look tough in front of his children in terms of disciplining them but inside his heart he has full of compassion, love and tender care for his children that he will do everything for them. That is the man of the hour Tatay Digong!

  13. Melchor Escobia on

    It would only show the historical meaning of “CRAB MENTALITY” some filipinos are noted for to the whole world. It takes one to know one.

  14. This presidency is a product of the judgement of history. Enough for the dumb, incompetent and stupid leaders. Our history reminded us, that we need strong leaders.

    Here is the good analysis;

    The Marcos era until Benigno’s administration was an experiment. Marcos strong leadership was a trial, it brings development and discipline by instilling fear but the people was not yet ready for such type of leadership. People wanted to try something smooth so, we thrown away a dictator and put into power a lady, but after a long period of trial and error. It didn’t work. It became more worst. After the long period of trials, we checked if the smooth leadership really won’t work by electing a leader with the same set of mind, that is Benigno. During his term, the worst was at its highest level.

    This situation only confirms that the Philippines won’t work with smooth leadership. We need a strong leader, to instill fear. By instilling fear, creates discipline. Discipline is important for a nation to progress. China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, India, Dubai and etc. has a thing in common and that is discipline.

    Regarding the cleansing, the majority of people allows this things to happen because from the start, before the election, the President already said that he would kill thousands of criminal and addicts. Yet, the people voted him with overwhelmingly 16 million votes. If you can get the message of this situation, you are good but it not you are too bad.

    The lack of common sense is the reason why you have this kind of silly judgement.

    Yes!, you are good on how to write but you have the difficulty of what is to write.

    • Mga_imbento on

      history will tell us that a leader impose fear to his countrymen will end up in a miserable DEATH. e.g. Hitler, Mossulini, Sadam etc…

  15. Blah, blah, blah… There are thousands of information filings at the ICC and have been piling up since 2002. What makes this incredibly dubious filing any different that it deserves such serious treatment? Rachel Reyes is way overboard in dramatizing the significance of this piece of garbage that the ambulance chaser submitted at the ICC. I’ll bet a toilet cleaner was the one who received it.

  16. Your premise that Sabio’s letter to the ICC will be used to judge DU30 in history is wrong. Sabio and his letter will be deemed a paid political act and find its way into the trash bin never to be heard of again.

  17. mga tanong lang:
    since 1988 pa pala e?
    correct me if im wrong pero ngayon lang ba sila nag-file ng ganyang klaseng kaso sa icc?
    ano yun hinintay pa nila may mapatay pang 7000 bago mag file ng ganyan e since 1988 pa pala?
    may mga ibang active cases ba against duterte for those ejks kuno?
    jude sabio? sino ba siya talaga? lawyer ni matobato diba? nasaan na nga pala si matobato? di ba pumatay din siya? wala ba siya kaso?
    bakit hindi sila alejano or trillanes ang nagsampa? ano na pala nangyari sa mga alegasyon nila? nasaan mga ebidensya?