"The Court said there was reasonable basis to proceed with the probe."
In a 77-page complaint, lawyer Jude Sabio (who is now deceased) filed a complaint against Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte before the International Criminal Court (“Court”) accusing him of extrajudicial killings during his nationwide anti-drugs crackdown. The complaint was filed before the Court alleging that Duterte was involved in the Davao Death Squad extrajudicial killings, further stating that Duterte “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” committed extrajudicial executions from his term as Mayor of Davao City through to his current presidency and that under him, killing drug suspects and other criminals has become “best practice.” Sabio charged Duterte and 11 senior government officials with crimes against humanity and to issue an arrest warrant for them. Duterte has repeatedly denied his involvement in the death squad and maintained that any killings of drug suspects were conducted within the bounds of the law.
It must be remembered that Atty. Sabio was the lawyer for Edgar Matobato, a man who testified in the Philippines Senate that he was part of a hit squad that operated on Duterte’s orders. Matobato was a self-confessed assassin who testified in September of 2016 on his experiences and even revealed names of policemen he worked with in the past. Another witness presented before the Senate hearing, retired police officer Arturo Lascańas also admitted to have killed 300 people, about 200 as a member of a hit squad that terrorized Davao City at the behest of then Mayor Duterte. Despite the damning testimonies of the two witnesses, the Senate concluded after its inquiries that no proof existed that the “Davao death squad” existed.
In an affidavit submitted before the ICC, Sabio later withdrew his complaint against Duterte, saying that it should be “set aside and trashed” because it was being used by Duterte’s critics for political propaganda. Sabio’s affidavit detailed how he was “devastated, disillusioned and disenchanted” in helping out self-confessed hitmen Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas in the complaint before the ICC after he lost financial support from former opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
The ICC Office of the Prosecutor, however, said that no communication before them can be withdrawn. It added that any supposed withdrawal “would have no impact” on the preliminary examination it is conducting. It added that the ICC has a “wide range of reliable sources” and is not confined to information in the communications alone. Besides, many other communications were received by the Office of the Prosecutor. The National Union of People’s Lawyers representing families of victims and Senators Sonny Trillanes and Leila De Lima were among those who submitted communications.
On June 14, 2021, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the preliminary investigation, which started on 8 February 2018, on the situation in the Philippines in the context of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs has been concluded. As such, the prosecutor is now requesting the International Criminal Court to authorise the commencement of an investigation into the situation in the Philippines in relation to War on Drugs campaign by the Philippine government The same request is grounded on the determination by prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of Philippines “war on drugs” campaign.
As reported by Prosecutor Bensouda, extrajudicial killings, perpetrated across the Philippines, appear to have been committed pursuant to an official State policy of the Philippine government. Police and other government officials planned, ordered, and sometimes directly perpetrated extrajudicial killings. They paid police officers and vigilantes bounties for extrajudicial killings. State officials at the highest levels of government also spoke publicly and repeatedly in support of extrajudicial killings, and created a culture of impunity for those who committed them.
In an attempt to evade a formal investigation and indictments by the ICC, Duterte in March 2018 had the Philippines rescind its ratification of the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the international court. Withdrawal from the treaty went into effect a year later, in March 2019. To Prosecutor Bensouda however, the International Criminal Court retains jurisdiction over these crimes. While the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Statute took effect on 17 March 2019, its jurisdiction remains with respect to alleged crimes that occurred on the territory of the Philippines while it was a State Party, from 1 November 2011 up to and including 16 March 2019. The prosecutor advanced the main thesis that there is reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court have been committed by the Philippine Government and State forces in the context of its war on drugs campaign.
In a most recent development, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has formally authorized an official probe into alleged crimes against humanity in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” The Court then stated that there was “reasonable basis” to proceed with the probe noting that “specific legal element of the crime against humanity of murder” has been met in the crackdown that left thousands dead.
The next columns will summarize and analyse this Pre-Trial Chamber decision.
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