Lawyer withdraws International Criminal Court complaint against Duterte for ‘mass murder’

Lawyer Jun Sabio filing a human rights complaint against the president before the International Criminal Court in April 2017 <i>Photo: ABS-CBN News</i>
Lawyer Jun Sabio filing a human rights complaint against the president before the International Criminal Court in April 2017 Photo: ABS-CBN News

In an abrupt about-face, a Filipino lawyer today said he would retract a complaint he filed before the International Criminal Court (ICC) two years ago accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of mass murder, claiming he was abandoning the case after it was used as “propaganda” by the president’s critics.

Lawyer Jude Sabio signed an affidavit saying he wanted to withdraw the 78-page document he filed in April 2017, which detailed the extrajudicial killings carried out under Duterte’s drug war. The complaint was titled “The Situation of Mass Murder in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte: The Mass Murderer.”

Sabio said in a letter to media outlets that the complaint should be “set aside and trashed,” and that it was just “a part of the political propaganda” of jailed opposition Senator Leila de Lima, former Senator Antonio Trillanes, and members of the opposition Liberal Party, GMA News reports.

“I will send by e-mail later my letter-withdrawal that I executed today addressed to [ICC] Prosecutor [Fatou] Bensouda regarding my intention to withdraw my earlier ICC communication,” Sabio said in the statement, adding that he would personally submit it to Bensouda’s office soon, according to CNN Philippines.

Video circulated online today of Sabio signing documents related to the case’s withdrawal in the presence of fellow lawyer Larry Gadon, who found himself in the Duterte administration’s favor in 2018 after filing an impeachment complaint against a former chief justice and opponent of the president.

In his 2017 complaint,  Sabio said that his clients, confessed hitmen Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas, were part of the Davao Death Squad (DDS), a paramilitary group that allegedly carried out extrajudicial killings in Davao City under the orders of then-mayor Duterte.

The allegations were backed by Duterte critics Trillanes and Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano, who filed an impeachment complaint against Duterte in 2017 alleging that thousands were killed by the DDS, and several thousand more were killed in the president’s subsequent drug war.

The president, meanwhile, has denied links to the purported death squad and to Matobato, whom he denies knowing personally. Somewhat undermining his position, however, have been the president’s own public claims that he has personally murdered drug suspects, as well as his (“playful”!) admission that his “only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”

Read: International Criminal Court to continue preliminary examination of Duterte drug war despite PH exit

As of 2018, the Commission on Human Rights said that on top of Sabio’s, three more complaints in connection with the drug war were filed before the ICC against Duterte.

The Philippines, thanks to a unilateral decision by Duterte himself, formally withdrew from the ICC after the tribunal launched a preliminary examination into alleged abuses committed during the drug war.

Duterte has insisted that the international court has no jurisdiction over him, claiming that by withdrawing the country’s ratification of the Rome Statute (the treaty that created the ICC), it is “not effective nor enforceable” in the country.

In a separate speech last year, Duterte addressed ICC Prosecutor Bensouda directly, saying, “Son of a bitch, you guys [ICC] are annoying.”


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