HONG KONG/THE HAGUE - The lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato said he had filed a complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte and senior officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday, accusing them of crimes against humanity in a nationwide anti-drugs crackdown.
Attorney Jude Sabio said in the 77-page complaint that Duterte "repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously" committed crimes against humanity and that under him, killing drug suspects and other criminals has become "best practice."
Sabio serves as legal counsel for Matobato, a man who has testified in the Senate that he was part of a hit squad that operated on Duterte's orders.
It is the first publicly known communication to the ICC against Duterte and is based on the testimony of Matobato and retired policeman Arturo Lascanas, reports from rights groups and media reports, including a Reuters series on the killings.
The complaint alleges that Duterte and at least 11 senior government officials are liable for murder and calls for an investigation, arrest warrants and a trial.
Sabio also included in the complaint top officials of the government, including Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and PNP chief Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, for allegedly contributing, in one way or another, to the commission or attempted commission of a crime.
“In the war on drugs at the national level, dela Rosa knows about the activities of the death squads targeting suspected drug personalities,” the complaint said.
Reached for comments, chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the complaint will not prosper as the government's war on drugs is not a crime against humanity.
"The complaint filed against the President by lawyer of Matobato is baseless. And not only that, I don’t think the International Criminal Court will have jurisdiction over it because if the crime charged is crime against humanity, I do not think that the war against the drugs as well as the criminals behind it would fall under crime against humanity," Panelo said.
"Also under the jurisdiction of the Criminal Court, the murder should be against a class of people and I do not think this will fall under it," he added.
In his complaint, Sabio said Dela Rosa should also be held liable for his public statements supporting Oplan Tokhang.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was also named one of the respondents for uttering statements that “clearly incite violence and mass murder, or further in a certain way, fulfill the criminal purpose of President Duterte.”
Former Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno should be held liable, said Sabio, for allowing barangay and police officials to carry out Oplan Tokhang.
Also included in the complaint were:
- Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate justice committee for “holding that there are extrajudicial killings committed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) operating under Duterte administration’s campaign against drugs but ultimately concluding that these killings are not state-sponsored”;
- Senator Alan Peter Cayetano “for aiding and abetting the killings brought by the war on the drugs through his speeches and public pronouncements”;
- National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gierran - for supposedly failing to investigate the widespread and systematic killings happening under the Duterte administration;
- Solicitor General Jose Calida for promising to defend policemen accused of summary killings;
- Supt. Edilberto Leonardo, now assigned to the Manila Police District (MPD), formerly assigned to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDU) of Police Regional Operations, for supposedly helping design and operate the reward system for the war on drugs at the national level;
- SPO4 Sanson “Sonny” Buenaventura for his alleged role in facilitating the transfer of reward money to those who kill, as well as his direct involvement in the Davao Death Squad in Davao City;
- Supt. Royina Garma for her alleged violations in the implementation of Oplan Tokhang under her direction as head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Region 7.
Lawmakers found no proof of Matobato's Senate testimony, which the President's aides have dismissed as fabrication.
Almost 9,000 people have been killed since Duterte took office last summer. Police claim a third of those killings were in self-defense during legitimate police operations. Rights groups say many of the remaining two-thirds were committed by vigilantes cooperating with the police or by police disguised as vigilantes. Police deny this.
Figures 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 personalities 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 come with the caveat that police should operate within the bounds of the law.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said last week that authorities "follow operational protocols" and those who breached procedures were made to answer before the law.
He added that news reports about close to 9,000 people being killed in the drug war was "false news."
Citing standard procedure, ICC spokesman Fadi el Abdallah declined comment on any possible communication filed.
Officials at Duterte's office said they were not immediately able to comment.
Since it was set up in July 2002, the ICC has received over 12,0000 complaints or communications. Nine of these cases have gone to trial and six verdicts have been delivered.
The ICC has no powers of enforcement, and any non-compliance has to be referred to the United Nations or the court's own oversight and legislative body, the Assembly of States Parties.
The complaint is only a possible first step in what could be a long process at the ICC. The tribunal first has to decide whether it has jurisdiction, and then decide on whether it should conduct a preliminary examination.
It can then ask a judge to open an official investigation, which could lead to a trial.
Duterte has said he welcomed the prospect of the ICC putting him on trial. He said last month he would not be intimidated and his campaign against drugs would be unrelenting and "brutal."
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said last year her office was following developments in the Philippines "with a view to assessing whether a preliminary examination needs to be opened."
"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 office of International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has confirmed that it has received the complaint filed by lawyer Jude Sabio on Monday.
Bensouda's office confirmed to AFP it had "received a communication earlier this morning by an attorney from the Philippines," adding it would "analyze the materials submitted, as appropriate" in line with the tribunal's guiding Rome Statute and make its decision later. — Reuters/AFP with a report from Kathrina Charmaine Alvarez/NB/RSJ/BAP, GMA News