ICC confirms receipt of document alleging "mass murder" in PH drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 25) — The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday said it received a document filed against President Rodrigo Duterte and his government by a lawyer.

"We can confirm that we have received a communication," the ICC Office of the Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told Reuters on Monday. "We will analyze it, as appropriate. As soon as we reach a decision, we will inform the sender and provide reasons for our decision," it added.

Jude Sabio, lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, on Monday submitted to the ICC in The Hague, his 77-page document, which is officially known in the ICC as a "communication." It was filed in relation to the deaths allegedly related to the Duterte administration's war on drugs.

"In the interest of international criminal justice and in the interest of the rights of the thousands of human rights victims and their families, it is humbly requested that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court conduct an analysis of the situation of mass murder in the Philippines, as well as the criminal liability or responsibility of then Mayor and now President Duterte and his senior government officials," Sabio's letter prefacing the document said.

READ: Lawyer asks international court to look into 'mass murder' in PH

Philippine National Police (PNP) statistics reveal around 2,500 drug suspects were killed in the first six months of the administration's anti-drug campaign.

International human rights groups, however, said deaths number at around 7,000, claiming these are extrajudicial killings encouraged by Duterte. Sabio used these reports by the rights group, and a number of media reports as sources in his document.

Sabio says although the ICC receives thousands of communications, the Philippines' case is unique.

"The situation in the Philippines is very peculiar because the international community has been monitoring the situation ever since. The ICC itself is also monitoring, the European Union is monitoring. Other credible international human rights watchdogs have been monitoring the situation," Sabio told CNN Philippines.

Despite the allegations, these have never been proven and charges have yet to be filed. The government has consistently denied that the alleged killings in the drug war are state-sponsored.

Smear campaign

The ICC in The Hague, is an independent, international court tasked with prosecuting crimes committed by individuals if a member state's national justice system is unable or unwilling to address an issue.

It persecutes only the "gravest" crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, and war crimes.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the timing of the ICC complaint is only "meant to create negative news," as the Philippines hosts the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit from April 26 to 29.

"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," Abella said in a statement.

Abella maintained the drug-related killings are not sanctioned by the government.

"Police authorities are conducting legitimate operations that require observance of operational protocols and those who breach procedures are made to answer before the law," Abella said.

But Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of the President's staunch critics, said the case against the President is "solid."

The Philippines is a state that is party to the Rome Statute of 1998, the international treaty that established the International Criminal Court.

Trillanes said the alleged deaths from the administration's war on drugs fall under crimes against humanity

"One of those articles of the Rome Statute, crimes against humanity, it is very clear that the war on drugs being conducted by President Duterte falls under that description," Trillanes told CNN Philippines.

"They can belittle it all they want but deep inside they know that they're in trouble," Trillanes added.

The drug war is a recurring theme in the President's speeches, in almost every occasion.

At the opening of the Palarong Pambansa on Sunday, Duterte recalled his days as longtime mayor of Davao, where he rid the city of its drug problem.

"(My) orders to the police and to the military now is: Go out and hunt for them. Not to kill them but to arrest them if still possible. But if they confront you violently then shoot the idiot because either ikaw o siya ang mamatay (either of you will die)," Duterte told some 12,000 elementary and secondary student-athletes on Sunday.

In October 2016, ICC chief prosecutor Bensouda expressed concern over the alleged killings. She also warned government leaders against making pronouncements that condoned or encouraged the killings.

"Any person in the Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable to prosecution before the Court," she said.

READ: Int'l Criminal Court chief prosecutor warns PH over drug killings

Court of last resort

Abella, however, said the case will not prosper since the ICC is a "court of last resort," and Sabio has not yet exhausted legal remedies in the country.

"(An) independent Senate investigated the charges hurled against the President with self-confessed hitman Mr. Matobato as star witness. As such, there is no unwillingness or inability on the part of the State to investigate and prosecute the President," Abella said.

But Trillanes said there were only two Senate investigations, which he claims were "abruptly terminated" by the President's allies.

Matobato and retired police officer Arthur Lascanas both testified in Senate hearings on the alleged existence of vigilante group Davao Death Squad, and claimed then-Davao City mayor Duterte ordered them to kill criminals.

Since the President is immune from any criminal suit, the only way to prosecute him is after an impeachment, Trillanes added.

"So here comes now the opportunity for the allies of the President so as to avoid any investigation or trial by the ICC, they should at least, project, that the impeachment case would be legitimate and genuinely pursuing or investigating those allegations included in the impeachment court," Trillanes said.

*This story was updated on April 25, 11 p.m. to add phone interview with Atty. Sabio.