ICC says lawyer's complaint vs. Duterte cannot be withdrawn

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This is one of a number of 'communications' which asked the International Criminal Court to look into the Philippines' situation.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — A Filipino lawyer is retracting the complaint he filed against President Rodrigo Duterte in the International Criminal Court – a move that the tribunal said would not have any impact at all to its ongoing assessment.

Jude Sabio on Tuesday signed a 28-page affidavit saying he intends to withdraw the 77-page document, formally called a "communication" by the ICC, where he alleged in April 2017 the "continuing mass murder" in the Philippines. Sabio said the complaint should be "set aside and trashed" because it was being used by Duterte's critics for political propaganda.

"I will send by e-mail later my letter-withdrawal that I executed today addressed to Prosecutor [Fatou] Bensouda regarding my intention to withdraw my earlier ICC communication," Sabio said in a statement sent to CNN Philippines. He added he will submit it personally to Bensouda's office in The Hague anytime soon.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor, however, told CNN Philippines that no communication before them can be withdrawn. It added that any supposed withdrawal "would have no impact" on the preliminary examination it is conducting.

"The Office cannot effectively destroy or return information once it is [in] its possession or control. However, the Office would register any supplemental information the sender may now want to provide, including in terms of how to treat such information," its news desk said.

It added that the ICC has a "wide range of reliable sources" and is not confined to information in the communications alone.

'Devastated, disillusioned, disenchanted'

Sabio's affidavit detailed how he was "devastated, disillusioned and disenchanted" in helping out self-confessed hitmen Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas in the complaint before the ICC after he lost financial support from former opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

Sabio said he received from Trillanes ₱50,000 to ₱100,000 a month for around two years until Trillanes stepped down from the Senate last June.

He also said he sought ₱700,000 in legal fees from Jesuit priest Albert Alejo, who supposedly asked him to make a billing for rendering services to Matobato. Sabio said he never got paid, even after following up with the camp of Trillanes and Senator Leila de Lima, whom he said were working together on a plot to oust Duterte.

"I denounce their fraudulent ploy against me. Together with my wife, who has been my constant companion, I endured a lot of hardship and sacrifice for handling Matobato’s cases in Davao. For more than once, I ran out of money for food and hotel in Davao, because they failed to send the needed budget for my trip and stay in the Davao region," said Sabio, who had also been dragged into some of the legal cases involving Trillanes.

Despite his stinging rebuke of Trillanes and members of the opposition Liberal Party, Sabio did not backtrack on the allegations in his communication with the ICC, even stressing several times that he remains an advocate against extrajudicial killings.

Sabio's communication included statements of Matobato and Lascañas, that they killed people in Davao City upon the orders of then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. This was followed by supplemental information from then opposition lawmakers Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo Party-List Rep. Gary Alejano. They said over a thousand people were killed by the so-called Davao Death Squad, while thousands more were killed in the war on drugs since Duterte became president in 2016.

Trillanes in a statement on Tuesday said Sabio's withdrawal will not have any effect on the Philippines' case.

"Even assuming tanggapin ang pagwithdraw ni Sabio, marami pang ibang nagfile laban kay Duterte sa ICC," Trillanes said.

[Translation: Even assuming that Sabio's withdrawal is accepted, there are many others who filed a complaint against Duterte in the ICC.]

The Commission on Human Rights previously told CNN Philippines that at least three more communications were filed by non-government organizations and concerned individiduals.

READ: At least three more communications vs. Duterte filed at ICC – CHR

Trillanes said the Duterte camp influenced Sabio's decision, afraid of what the ICC's findings would be. Sabio, on the other hand, accused Trillanes, detained Senator Leila de Lima and other members of the opposition, of using the ICC complaint for politics.

Duterte and the ICC

The ICC in February 2018 launched a preliminary examination which will determine whether or not it will proceed with a formal investigation into the Philippines' case.

A month later, Duterte pulled the country out of the ICC, a move that took effect after one year – March 2019. Duterte has also repeatedly warned ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda against setting foot on the country. The ICC said it will continue looking into the country's situation despite Duterte's threats and the Philippines' exit from the tribunal.

Deaths in the country's anti-drug campaign have also attracted the attention of the United Nations' Human Rights Council, which called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate.

READ: What to expect from UN's review of Philippine drug war

More or less 6,000 drug suspects have been killed, according to government data, but local and international human rights groups say thousands more have died in extrajudicial killings as a result of Duterte's public pronouncements to finish all drug addicts.

Malacañang has said there are no state-sanctioned killings, and that the country's independent courts could prosecute alleged violations by police and law enforcement agencies.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario and Currie Cator contributed to this report.