By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
Malacanang dismissed the complaint against President Duterte for “crimes against humanity” the moment it was formally filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 24 as mere black propaganda meant to embarrass the President as the Philippines hosts the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) summit this week.
The 77-page complaint was filed before the ICC at The Hague in the Netherlands by lawyer Jude Sabio who served as counsel for Edgar Matobato, the first of two retired police officers to testify at the Senate that Duterte as Davao City mayor ordered the killings attributed to the Davao Death Squad.
Apart from Duterte, the complaint that cited the Davao Death Squad and the campaign on illegal drugs also included other government officials who were deemed in violation of various provisions of the Rome Statute. The ICC is governed by an international treaty called the Rome Statute.
The other officials in the list of respondents were House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Richard Gordon, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gerram, former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno and three police officers.
In the complaint, Sabio claimed that the alleged mass murder or extra-judicial killings linked to the administration’s war on drugs constituted “crimes against humanity,” one of three distinct offenses within the ICC’s jurisdiction. The other two are genocide and war crimes.
Jude Sabio said the police are aware of the activities of death squads targeting suspected drug personalities. He argued that killing drug suspects and other criminals has become the “best practice” under Duterte’s watch.
But Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said that “apparently, the intention” is to hit Duterte with “black propaganda… hoping that media worldwide would catch on and paint the President as a murderer when in fact, he’s only doing his constitutional duty to protect and preserve this country. It will fail in making the people believe in the validity of the charge.”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella piped in, saying the ICC complaint was meant to “shame” Duterte as the Philippines hosts the ASEAN summit. “The timing of the filing of the case is suspect – apparently meant to create negative news in the midst of the Philippines’ ASEAN hosting,” Abella said.
“The intent of this filing in ICC is clearly to embarrass and shame the President, and undermine the duly constituted government of the Philippines,” he added.
Abella said the complaint would not prosper because the ICC, as a court of last resort, would only exercise jurisdiction over a case once legal remedies in the Philippines have been exhausted. “Attorney Sabio or his client, Edgardo Matobato, did not avail or exhaust all domestic remedies allowed under the Philippine Constitution,” Abella said.
“Furthermore, an independent Senate investigated the charges against the President with self-confessed hit man Matobato as star witness. As such, there is no unwillingness or inability on the part of the State to investigate and prosecute the President,” he added. Abella also maintained that extra-judicial killings are not state-sponsored.
Panelo argued that the ICC does not have jurisdiction because Duterte’s war against drugs and criminals does not fall under “crimes against humanity.” He said “police authorities are conducting legitimate operations that require observance of operational protocols and those who breach procedures are made to answer before the law.”
Sabio said he brought the case to the ICC “in the interest of international criminal justice and in the interest of the rights of the thousands of human rights victims and their families.”
He asked the Prosecutor of the ICC to “conduct an analysis of the situation of mass murder in the Philippines, as well as the criminal liability or responsibility of then Mayor and now President Duterte and his senior officials, through the method of a preliminary examination to determine compliance with jurisdiction and admissibility requirements.”
Sabio also sought the arrest and detention of Duterte and the other respondents, and “after trial, convict them and sentence them to corresponding prison sentence or life imprisonment.”