Lawyer fears persecution vs rights advocates after Manila leaves ICC

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 10 2019 02:18 PM | Updated as of Mar 10 2019 02:33 PM

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MANILA - The Philippine government may persecute rights defenders when its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court takes effect a week from now, a lawyer who filed a case against President Rodrigo Duterte at the tribunal said Sunday. 

The ICC last year started a preliminary examination into allegations that Duterte ordered the execution of opponents and drug suspects when he was still a longtime mayor of Davao City. 

Without the Hague-based court, "we cannot expect to attain justice in the Philippines, where the President himself is the one being accused," said lawyer Jude Sabio

"I foresee that the Philippine government, through President Rodrigo Duterte, will utilize that withdrawal [from ICC] to persecute human rights defenders in the Philippines and I foresee the possibility that this government will pursue people who will continue the case in the ICC," he told ANC. 

"I foresee the strong possibility that President Duterte will consider me and other personalities to be enemies of the state... I fear that because of that, people like me will be charged of treason or persecuted for our belief, the conviction that we have," he added. 

Sabio is the legal counsel of self-confessed assassin Edgar Matobato, who testified in 2016 Senate inquiry that he was a member of the "Davao Death Squad" that killed at least a thousand people on Duterte's orders. The inquiry concluded there was no proof of the hit squad. 

The probe reopened in February 2017 when a second self-confessed assassin, retired policeman Arturo Lascañas testified, but senators again concluded there was insufficient evidence.

Sabio went to The Hague 2 months later to file a complaint he said is backed by many Filipinos, among them some of Duterte's political opponents.

Two of those, lawmakers Gary Alejano and Antonio Trillanes, filed a supplementary communication with the ICC to reinforce Sabio's 77-page complaint. 

 Duterte has repeatedly denied ordering extra-judicial killings while mayor or president and said he would "gladly" go before the ICC

But in May 2018, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the Rome Statute, which created the ICC. Manila's split from the court takes effect next Sunday.

The ICC may open an investigation into the communication before the Philippines' membership expires, just like it did in the case of Burundi, where some state agents were accused of committing widespread attacks against civilians, said Sabio. 

The court may also launch the investigation after May 17, in which case, any interested party can still present evidence, said the lawyer. 

"The ICC can proceed with an investigation even if the Philippine government will not cooperate... The ICC operates on a different international plane. The ICC is not bound by any domestic process," he said. 

"It is not bound by the claim of the Philippine government that the Rome Statute has not been published in the Official Gazette or any newspaper," he added.

Duterte is facing a separate communication at the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity in connection with killings linked to his anti-drug drive.

With a report from Reuters