THE lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato on Monday filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court in The Hague against President Rodrigo Duterte and 11 other officials for mass murder and crimes against humanity, saying they were behind the killing of thousands of people in the government’s war on drugs.
In a complaint filed before ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, lawyer Jude Josue Sabio said Duterte “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” committed crimes against humanity and that under him, killing drug suspects and other criminals has become a “best practice.”
“The situation in the Philippines reveals a terrifying, gruesome and disastrous continuing commission of extrajudicial executions or mass murder from the time President Duterte was the mayor of Davao City,” the complaint read.
“Your favorable action on this matter would not only serve the noble ends of international criminal justice, but would also be the beginning of the end of this dark, obscene, murderous and evil era in the Philippines,” Sabio said in his letter to Bensouda.
Also included in the complaint were Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa, Supt. Edilberto Leonardo, Supt. Royina Garma, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former Interior and Local Government secretary Ismael Sueno, SPO4 Sanson Buenaventura, National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gierran, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Senator Richard Gordon, and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.
“To end this impunity, the International Criminal Court is being resorted to as a court of last resort, given the gravity of the current human rights disaster in the Philippines,” Sabio said.
Describing the continuing spate of extrajudicial killings in the country as a “human rights disaster,” Sabio said that Duterte’s methods used by the Davao Death Squad in perpetrating alleged extrajudicial killings while he was mayor, including the planting of false evidence and cash payments to killers, were being replicated on a national scale.
Sabio is the lawyer for self-confessed hitman, Edgar Matobato who claimed that he was part of the Davao Death Squad when Duterte was still mayor of Davao City.
“The impunity is grave, as shown by the ‘repeated, unchanging and continuing’ extrajudicial or summary executions, with unrelenting impunity, ever since the time that President Duterte was still mayor of Davao City claiming 1,400 deaths, more or less, under his Davao Death Squad and later on in the national level in the war on drugs after 30 June 2016 waged by the very same person, no less than President Duterte, who formed, created, managed, headed and masterminded the Davao Death Squad in Davao City when he was still a mayor.
“The basic material hallmarks or elements in the extrajudicial executions in 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.
“During the time that he was the mayor of Davao City, President Duterte never even lifted a finger to investigate the thousand killings undertaken under the Davao Death Squad. This is precisely because on hindsight he is personally involved.”
Among the parallels of DDS murders and the recent extrajudicial killings included elements, such as: 1) police participation and command; 2) a hitman or an unknown armed assailant; 3), a reward system for every killing; 4) a reward in cash; 5) a kill watch list; 6) collaboration between barangay (village) and police officials; 7) the cardboard sign and the face and body wrapped in packing tape; 8) the use of ‘riding in tandem’ motorcycle-riding assailants; 9) the use of hooded or masked assailants; and 10) the planting of a gun and drugs.
Sabio said the President’s public pronouncements “express a loud and clear intention to promote, encourage, or incite the police and civilians to mass murder or violence.”
The complaint likewise cited investigations by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and a statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines denouncing the anti-drug campaign as a “reign of terror.”
The International Criminal Court, which handles cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, was founded by international agreement. The Philippines signed on in 2011.
The court may take cases only under certain conditions, including when a nation’s own judicial system is unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute.
Since Duterte took office in June 2016, more than 6,000 homicide cases were recorded with the police claiming that a third of these were simply in self-defense during legitimate police operations.
Rights groups, however, maintain that many of the remaining two-thirds were committed by vigilantes cooperating with the police or by police disguised as vigilantes—a claim the authorities reject.
Statistics from the Philippine National Police show that as of March 30, legitimate police operations have led to the deaths of more than 2,600 drug suspects since July 1, 2016 when its war on drugs started under the Duterte administration.
Its statistics also point to more than 6,000 deaths under investigation—including those involving drug suspects—for the same period.
Duterte has persistently denied he is involved with any death squad and said that his orders to kill drug suspects were done in regularity.
Malacañang dismissed the filing of charges against Duterte as nothing but an attempt to discredit him amid the country’s hosting of the 30th Association of South East Asian Nations Summit here in Manila this week.
“The timing of the filing of the case is suspect—apparently meant to create negative news in the midst of the Philippines Asean debut; as 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,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
“The intent of this filing in ICC is clearly to embarrass and shame the President, and undermine the duly constituted government of the Philippines. It is a cynical effort against the reform-oriented agenda of the Duterte administration and of the betterment of the lives of the Filipino people,” he said.
Abella also said a Senate investigation found no evidence to link the President to the extrajudicial killings.
“As such, there is no unwillingness or inability on the part of the State to investigate and prosecute the President,” Abella said.
Duterte’s spokesman said that Sabio or his client, Edgar Matobato, “did not exhaust all domestic remedies allowed under the Philippine Constitution,” adding that the so-called “extrajudicial killings” are not state-sanctioned or state-sponsored.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo laid down the complaint as “black propaganda.”
“Even assuming that there are 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,” the President’s lawyer said.
“We’re never worried [about] President because he’s just doing his job and the Filipinos believe in him,” he added.
Sabio, however, argued that the international court has the responsibility to investigate and prosecute the people responsible for the killings “because an impartial investigation would be impossible in the Philippines, where the president and his allies control the country’s political and legal systems.”
In October 2016, Bensouda said that the ICC is “closely following” the bloody drug war to see if the spate of deaths in the past 3 months may be considered “extrajudicial killings” that warrant a preliminary examination.
“I am deeply concerned about these alleged killings and the fact that public statements of high officials of the Republic of the Philippines seem to condone such killings and further seem to encourage state forces and civilians alike to continue targeting these individuals with lethal force,” she said.
The ICC has jurisdiction over the Philippines after adopting the Rome Statute in 2011. With Macon Ramos-Araneta