By William Casis

Sen. Leila de Lima lamented lawyer Jude Sabio’s decision to withdraw his communication with the International Criminal Court (ICC) linking Duterte and his other officials to the extra-judicial killings (EJKs) under the government’s all-out war on drugs.

“I feel sorry for Atty. Sabio. I can understand that he is going through personal issues that forced him to turn his back on the cause of the victims of mass atrocities,” she said in his recent Dispatch from Crame No. 702.

“Whatever the reason for such an awful move, Atty. Sabio has become very vulnerable to the machinations from the dark forces,” she added.

Sabio’s withdrawal, De Lima said,  is not only an attempt to discredit the cases against human rights atrocities of the Duterte regime but more so for his betrayal to the victims and survivors of extra-judicial and summary killings in the country.

Last January 15, Sabio, who represented self-confessed Duterte Death Squad hitman Edgar Matobato, announced he has written a letter to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda about his intention to withdraw his earlier ICC communication.

The ICC, however, said in an official statement that communications sent to their office can no longer be withdrawn and Sabio’s apparent step-back will have no impact on the on-going preliminary examination.

De Lima, who has been vocal against summary killings brought about by Duterte’s war on drugs, pointed out that she understands that Sabio’s personal issues might have forced him to turn his back on the principles he tried so hard to fight for.

According to her, Sabio’s withdrawal of his 77-page communication to ICC comes rather “too late a move” and would hardly dent the progress of the ICC interventions on the human rights abuses in the country.

“Atty. Sabio may have fallen but the fight continues without him and in spite of his betrayal of the victims,” she stressed.

The lady senator fromBicol explained that other communications and information have already been submitted to the ICC regarding the alleged crimes against humanity, specifically, widespread and systematic EJKs first in Davao and then in the war on drugs since 2016.

De Lima said Sabio who was accompanied by fellow lawyer and rabid Duterte supporter Larry Gadon might have faced pressure from “dark forces” who are hell bent to discredit human rights defenders fighting for accountability in the Philippines.

“I’m pretty sure there are forces, desperate ones, behind this development. I don’t have to imagine the temptation Atty. Sabio must have faced, urging him to put his own interests ahead of those he is supposed to be advocating for,” she said.

In 2017, Sabio was one of the first to ask the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to bring charges against Duterte and other government officials for “the terrifying and gruesome situation of continuing mass murder in the Philippines.”

Based on news reports, at least 52 communications have been filed against Duterte before the ICC since March 2019, including those filed by opposition figures former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, former Rep. Gary Alejano; human rights lawyers National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and group of relatives of victims of the drug war, Rise Up.

Bensouda, in a report made public last month, said she is nearing the end of the preliminary examination of the Philippines and will issue a final recommendation to pursue a formal investigation sometime this year.

With the withdrawal of the complaint in the ICC, Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said,

“It’s clear that politicswas behind all the allegations against the President before the ICC.”

He also said thegovernment already identified the people behind the allegations and said that “their time will come.”

Jude Sabio, a Filipino lawyer who filed the said complaint in April 2017 before the ICC, signed a 28-page affidavit last January 14 saying heintends to withdraw his case against Duterte.

Sabio also said in a statement that the complaint should be “set aside and trashed” because political opponents of the President are using it for political propaganda.

Go added that those behind the allegation only want to undermine the progress made by the administration’s war on drugs, a campaign which continues to draw widespread support from Filipinos. 

As of 2019, he pointed out that 79 percent of Filipinos have expressed their support for the campaign, according to the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.