Lawyer withdraws 'crimes against humanity' complaint vs Duterte before ICC

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 14 2020 03:19 PM | Updated as of Jan 15 2020 04:17 AM

MANILA (UPDATE)—A lawyer who filed a communication against President Rodrigo Duterte for "crimes against humanity" before the International Criminal Court (ICC) said Tuesday he had withdrawn his case.

Lawyer Jude Sabio, who made the filing before the court at the Hague, Netherlands, said he signed and sworn an affidavit and statement that he did not approve what former senator Antonio Trillanes and other opposition personalities have resorted to, aimed at besmirching the honor of the President.

"I fervently request that it be expunged or erased from the record, and that it should not be used in any way in the ongoing preliminary examination," he said in a 28-page letter addressed to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

Sabio earlier expressed willingness to testify against Trillanes in the sedition complaint that the former senator is facing.

Sabio is the lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, who previously linked Duterte to the alleged Davao Death Squad and said the chief executive was responsible for alleged extrajudicial killings in Davao City.

Ray Paolo Santiago, co-chair of the Philippine Coalition for the ICC, said Sabio's withdrawal would not affect the ongoing preliminary examination. 

"It will not affect the PE (preliminary examination) since what he filed is not a complaint. The communication he filed is based on facts that can be verified independently. Since the incidents actually happened, his 'withdrawal' will not present an alternative fact," he said in a statement. 

The ICC's Office of the Prosecutor also said communication submitted to them could not be withdrawn and any purported withdrawal would have "no impact" on the ongoing preliminary examination since their assessment is based on different sources.

"Any purported withdrawal of the communication would have no impact on the ongoing preliminary examination. As stated in the Prosecutor’s statement of 8 February 2018, the Prosecutor opened the preliminary examination “[f]ollowing a careful, independent and impartial review of a number of communications and reports documenting alleged crimes," it said.

Under ICC rules, a prosecution could still proceed after a submission were withdrawn by an external party.

While a complaint from a single, external party could alert the prosecutor to possible crimes, it would not in itself be the basis for a case. The prosecutor's office would initiate its own investigation to determine whether crimes under the ICC's statute had been committed and warranted charges.

In its annual report released in December, the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor said it was aiming to finalize its preliminary examination this year "in order to enable the Prosecutor to reach a decision on whether to seek authorization to open an investigation into the situation in the Philippines."

The Philippines formally withdrew from the ICC in 2018 after the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal launched a preliminary examination against alleged abuses in Duterte's drug war. The motion took effect in March last year.

The President has insisted that the ICC has no jurisdiction over him.

—With reports from RG Cruz and Mike Navallo of ABS-CBN News and Reuters