ICC move is step towards justice for drug war victims, lawyer says

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 09 2018 01:37 AM | Updated as of Sep 02 2018 09:27 AM

Lawyer Jude Sabio, one of the complainants who filed a communication with the International Criminal Court regarding the government's war against drugs, welcomed the opening of a "preliminary examination" by the ICC into alleged crimes against humanity.

"This marks the first time in world history, in the history of global justice that a sitting Philippine president is subjected to a preliminary investigation. This is a big, historic step towards attainment of justice," Sabio told ABS-CBN in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

He said thousands of cases filed with the ICC are dismissed outright, and that that the ICC did not do so in this case is a significant development.

Sabio filed his communication with the ICC on April 2017 alleging that President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials committed crimes against humanity for being behind the "repeated, unchanging and continuing" "best practice", strategy or system, which was implemented both (1) first, in the Davao Death Squad in Davao City when Rodrigo Duterte was still the Mayor of Davao City, and (2) second, by way of continuation of that "best practice", in the continued extra-judicial executions in the war of drugs happening on a national scale after he became the President on 30 June 2016."

Under Article 7.1 of the Rome Statute, "crimes against humanity" refers to acts like murder "committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population."

He cited the testimonies of Edgar Matobato and Arthur Lascañas, both self-confessed members of the Davao Death Squad, as among his bases for his complaint. He added there are others willing to testify.

Sabio is confident he has enough evidence to secure a conviction.

"Salita pa lang niya, iko-convict na siya ng ICC. Yung salita niya is an admission of an intent, 'mens rea'. May mental awareness siya sa ginagawa sa Davao at gjnagawa ngayon at di niya kinokondena," he said. "The moment mag-admit ka, lalo na pag marami, kinonfess mo na guilt mo."

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in a statement released Thursday, explained that the preliminary investigation is not yet a formal investigation.

"I emphasize that a preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute," she said.

She also outlined what will happen in a preliminary investigation.

"The preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines will analyze crimes allegedly committed in this State Party since at least 1 July 2016, in the context of the "war on drugs" campaign launched by the Government of the Philippines," she said.

Bensouda said she will coordinate with Philippine authorities to determine if there are relevant investigations and prosecutions in the country and consider all submissions and views conveyed to her office.

An issue that needs to be resolved in a preliminary examination is whether a state-party to the Rome Statute is "unwilling and unable" to investigate the alleged killings, the ICC being a court of last resort.

The ICC prosecutor will also determine if it has jurisdiction over the case.

Malacañang has maintained the ICC has no jurisdiction over the complaint and that the judicial system in the country is working, hence, resort to the ICC should not be allowed.

"Obviously this is intended to embarrass the President but the President is a lawyer, he knows what the procedures are, they will fail," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Thursday.

"The President has said that if need be he will argue his case personally before the International Criminal Court," he added.