Lawyer Petitions ICC to Withdraw Lawsuit against Philippine Leader

Dennis Jay Santos and Mark Navales
Davao, Philippines
20191215-drugwar-mark-ruivivar-1000.jpg Relatives and friends of Mark Anthony Ruivivar, who was killed in an alleged shootout with Philippine police during an anti-drug operation, join his burial ceremony in Manila, Dec. 15, 2019.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A Filipino lawyer has retracted a complaint he filed against President Rodrigo Duterte in the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying it was being used as propaganda against the Philippine leader’s drug war.

In a 28-page letter addressed to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, attorney Jude Sabio said that the complaint that he filed in April 2017, in which he alleged that “mass murder” was continuing to take place in the Philippines, should be withdrawn.

“I fervently request that the legal matter pending with your office in relation to the war on drugs in the Philippines should just be set aside and thrashed,” Sabio said in his letter.

Sabio said his client Edgar Matobato had executed a sworn statement that he did not approve of the attacks against Duterte.

Matobato, a self-confessed hitman for Duterte, had testified during a Senate inquiry that Duterte had ordered the killings of criminals and his political enemies when the president was still the longtime mayor of southern Davao city. Matobato went into hiding shortly after testifying in 2016, and rights groups and other opposition figures had taken turns to protect him.

Sabio said that Matobato had a change of heart and now believes that Duterte’s critics, such as former senators Antonio Trillanes and Leila de Lima, were using the 77-page document he had filed in the ICC to besmirch the controversial leader.

Official figures indicate that more than 6,000 people have been killed in the drugs war since Duterte took office in 2016. On Wednesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, in its annual report, said the death toll could be as high as 27,000, citing estimates provided by rights workers in Manila.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters Wednesday that Sabio’s move effectively discredits the murder case against Duterte at The Hague-based ICC.

“Slowly but surely, the destabilizers of the Duterte administration are being undressed,” he said. “Their obnoxious smell, like ashfall, pollute the air.”

De Lima, a former human rights commissioner, is under detention while awaiting trial on charges that she received money from drug lords to fund her senatorial campaign. But De Lima has repeatedly denied the accusations, saying they were fabricated by Duterte’s government to stop her from criticizing the drug war.

Meanwhile, Trillanes belittled Sabio’s action, saying it will have “no effect” in the ICC probe since the international tribunal was also hearing other complaints against Duterte.

“Sabio’s planned withdrawal has no effect in the ICC case because ICC processes do not work that way. Courts in the Philippines work differently,” Trillanes said.

In a statement on Wednesday, De Lima said Sabio “has become very vulnerable to the machinations from the dark forces.” She did not elaborate.

“I’m pretty sure there are forces, desperate ones, behind this development,” she said.

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, accused Duterte on Wednesday of continuing to endorse his deadly anti-narcotics campaign, quoting the Philippine leader during a Sept. 25 speech that, “if you go into drugs, I will kill you.”

“President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign remains as brutal as when it started, with drug suspects being killed regularly across the country,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a statement. “Four years into the ‘drug war,’ the need for international mechanisms to provide accountability is as great as ever.”

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