ICC prosecutor: Probe of Duterte can’t be stopped
MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday said it could not reject outright the complaint filed by lawyer Jude Josue Sabio accusing President Duterte of crimes against humanity in the government’s bloody war on drugs just because he had withdrawn it.
The OTP said the withdrawal of the complaint, or communication, “would have no impact on the ongoing preliminary examination” of the charges against Mr. Duterte.
Cannot destroy, return
“The Office cannot effectively destroy or return information once it is in its possession or control,” the OTP’s media desk said in reply to an email inquiry from the Inquirer.
In a sworn statement to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Sabio on Tuesday said his 77-page communication should be “set aside and ‘thrashed’ for being just a part of the political propaganda” of the opposition led by the Liberal Party (LP).
He said his turnaround was motivated partly by the “pittance” he has received for his services from opposition figures.
Citing Sabio’s statement, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the ICC should now see that it also was being used by detractors who want to bring down the President.
Panelo also insisted that the ICC had no jurisdiction over the Philippines or Mr. Duterte and mocked the opposition, particularly former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, after Sabio’s turnaround.
Can’t be withdrawn
The OTP said that according to its own regulations and the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, the complaint filed by Sabio “cannot be withdrawn” because the OTP had “an obligation to register whatever it receives.”
It cited its Regulation 23, which states, among others, that a database shall be kept “to maintain the integrity of evidence collected and continuously to assemble information that reflects the relevance and actual use of evidence.”
The OTP said it would still “register any supplemental information the sender (Sabio) may now want to provide (including in terms of how to treat such information).”
It noted that Sabio’s communication was not the only evidence it had since it was getting reports on the allegations against Duterte and his subordinates from multiple sources.
“During the preliminary examination, the relevant assessment conducted by the Office is based on information available from a wide range of reliable sources,” the OTP said.
It said it was “not limited” by the communications it was receiving.
One of several cases
As Trillanes had earlier said, Sabio’s was one of several communications against the President and was based on allegations by two former security aides of Duterte — retired police officer Arturo Lascañas and confessed hit man Edgar Matobato.
One communication was filed by relatives of eight alleged victims of extrajudicial killings in the antinarcotics campaign.
Bensouda’s office indicated it would decide within the year whether it would pursue the case against the President and his subordinates.
But Panelo said the ICC must “wake up from its stupor if not ignorance.”
“It should realize by now that it is being used by disgruntled and discredited persons to advance their goal of besmirching the reputation of PRRD and achieving their impossible dream of bringing down the Duterte presidency,” he said in a statement.
“More importantly, it should recognize the unalterable legal fact that it has no jurisdiction over the President, and for that matter, the Philippines,” Panelo added.
He said the Rome Statute that created the court was not published in the Philippines so it could not be enforced here.
Sabio’s complaint was orchestrated by Trillanes and was “part of the vilification campaign relentlessly pursued by the incorrigible detractors as well as the political opposition totally repudiated by the electorate,” Panelo said.
Duterte ordered the withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute in March 2018, a month after Bensouda announced that she would begin the preliminary examination of the allegations against him.
The ICC said the examination would continue despite the Philippines’ withdrawal because it continued to have jurisdiction over crimes committed when the country was still a party to the statute.
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Wednesday said she “felt sorry” for Sabio for putting his “own interests ahead of those he is supposed to be advocating for,” adding that there could have been “forces, desperate ones” behind his “awful move.”
“Sabio may have fallen, but the fight continues without him and in spite of his betrayal of the victims,” De Lima said in a handwritten statement from her detention cell at Camp Crame.
LP president Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Sabio lost his credibility when he suddenly made an about-face.
“The public should reject this balimbing (two-faced). He is lying and he knows it,” Pangilinan said.
Carlos Conde, Philippine researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Sabio’s move had “no material effect at all.”
“It’s not just his complaint that’s pending before the ICC. There are other complaints that are probably more substantial than his,” he said.
“This also shows that Duterte is really afraid of the ICC and what it can do to exact accountability. It’s just sad that Sabio is being exploited for the government’s self-serving ends,” Conde said.
Butch Olano of Amnesty International said that even without Sabio’s complaint, some 53 communications have since been submitted to the ICC, all of which are being reviewed.
Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon likewise said Sabio’s withdrawal will not alter the ICC processes.
“Mr Sabio’s communication is just one of [more than 50 communications] and the ICC treats each communication similarly: that they represent information that will need to be examined, looked into, verified, validated and investigated by the ICC independently,” Gascon said.
—With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Marlon Ramos and Patricia Denise M. Chiu
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