Human rights lawyer lodges case at International Criminal Court against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for 'mass murder'

Lawyer Jude Jose Sabio alleges that about 1,400 people were killed by "death squads" when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (above) was mayor of Davao.
Lawyer Jude Jose Sabio alleges that about 1,400 people were killed by "death squads" when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (above) was mayor of Davao.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA - A human rights lawyer lodged a case on Monday (April 24) with the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling President Rodrigo Duterte a "mass murderer", and seeking an investigation into "this dark, obscene, murderous and evil era in the Philippines".

In a 77-page complaint filed with ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, lawyer Jude Jose Sabio sought to have Mr Duterte and 11 others arrested and held in The Hague to prevent him "from further committing mass murder and from killing potential victims and witnesses".

Mr Sabio said Mr Duterte "has been repeatedly, unchangingly, and continuously committing extrajudicial executions or mass murders constituting a crime against humanity" since he was elected mayor of the southern city of Davao in 1988.

Some 1,400 people were killed by "death squads" when Mr Duterte was mayor of Davao, and at least 7,000 have died at the hands of police or state-backed vigilantes since he became president in June last year, Mr Sabio alleged.

He offered as evidence testimonies provided to the Senate by two self-confessed assassins who claimed to have been part of Mr Duterte's "death squads" - Mr Edgar Matobato and Mr Arthur Lascanas. Mr Sabio is Mr Matobato's lawyer.

Mr Matobato, 57, said he and a militia of six other men began killing in 1988. They disembowelled their "marks", or torched them, or fed them alive to crocodiles. By the mid-1990s, their small band grew to squads of more than 500. When he walked away from it all in 2013, he said he would probably have taken part in over 1,000 murders.

Mr Matobato said the goal was to strike fear into the hearts of criminals and chase them out of Davao city. He said Mr Duterte gave the orders to kill.

He said he personally saw Mr Duterte unload two magazine clips of an Uzi on a government agent that his men had a run-in with.

Mr Matobato tagged Mr Lascanas, 56, a policeman at the time, in some of these murders, describing him as a "handler" of assassins, and someone "very close" to Mr Duterte.

Mr Lascanas rebuffed Mr Matobato's allegations during an initial appearance before the Senate. But he later walked back on his testimony, and corroborated much of what Mr Matobato said.

At a subsequent Senate hearing, he tagged Mr Duterte in at least three murders, including one case involving the summary execution of the entire household of a suspected kidnap gang financier.

He said "Superman" - supposedly Mr Duterte's code name - had knowledge, directly ordered, consented, tolerated and acquiesced to the killings.

Mr Duterte's aides have dismissed these allegations as "fabrications".

The Senate agreed and wrote off Mr Matobato's and Mr Lascanas' allegations as nothing more than hearsay that would not be enough to support an impeachment complaint against Mr Duterte.

Mr Matobato is now facing multiple murder charges, arising from his testimonies.

Mr Lascanas, meanwhile, fled to Singapore, saying his security in the Philippines has been compromised. He was expected to return to the Philippines from Singapore on April 22, but the immigration bureau has no record of his arrival.

The ICC case also relies heavily on reports compiled by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, priest and human rights advocate Amado Picardal, and media reports.

Eleven other officials, including Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, were included in the complaint for purportedly aiding and abetting the mass murder.

Mr Duterte has called the ICC "useless", and threatened to withdraw the Philippines' signature from the statute that led to the ICC's creation.