A Philippines lawyer has filed a complaint against President Duterte and senior officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today (Monday, April 24), accusing them of crimes against humanity.
Attorney Jude Sabio’s 78-page complaint said that the president “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” committed crimes against humanity and that under him, killing drug suspects and other criminal suspects had become widespread.
Sabio represents Edgar Matobato, a a former police officer who claims he killed dozens of people under then Mayor Duterte’s orders while part of the Davao Death Squad.
It is the first complaint to the ICC against the president and is based on the testimony of Matobato and also retired policeman Arturo Lascañas, reports from human rights groups and media reports.
The complaint alleges that Duterte and at least 11 senior government officials are liable for murder and calls for an investigation, arrest warrants and an eventual trial.
Almost 9,000 people have been killed since the president took office last summer. Police claim a third of those killings were in self-defence during legitimate operations. Rights groups allege that many of the remaining two-thirds were committed by vigilantes cooperating with police connivance or by police disguised as vigilantes. Police deny these claims, and say these deaths are all under investigation.
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 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”.
Reacting to the news of the complaint being filed today, he said: “The intent of this filing in ICC is clearly to embarrass and shame the President, and undermine the duly constituted government of the Philippines.
“It is a cynical effort against the reform-oriented agenda of the Duterte administration and of the betterment of the lives of the Filipino people.
“The timing of the filing of the case is suspect – apparently meant to create negative news in the midst of the Philippines ASEAN debut; as it cannot prosper,” said Abella.
He also said that Sabio was wrong to file a complaint with the ICC since it was only “a court of last resort”, which will only exercise jurisdiction if legal remedies in the Philippines have been exhausted.
“Atty Sabio or his client, Mr Edgardo Matobato, did not avail or exhaust all domestic remedies allowed under the Philippine Constitution.”
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 continue to be “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.