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'Hit man' Matobato to file ICC case vs. Duterte for crimes against humanity

Edgar Matobato takes his oath before a Senate hearing in Sept. 15, 2016 file photo. JOSEPH VIDAL, SENATE PRIB
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA -  (UPDATE 4:34 P.M) A confessed assassin who testified to being in a "death squad" under President Rodrigo Duterte will soon file a case at the International Criminal Court accusing him of crimes against humanity, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Reacting to reports of Edgar Matobato's plan to file a case at the ICC, opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman said the Duterte administration should not ignore the global court, which can step in and prosecute cases involving crimes against humanity committed in the country.

More than 8,000 people have died since Duterte took office in June and unleashed a bloody war on drugs, a third in raids and sting operations by police who say they acted in self-defense.

Duterte and the police have denied links to the other killings, many of which rights groups say bear the same hallmarks as hundreds of suspicious deaths of criminals in Davao City during the 22 years Duterte was its mayor.

Two men have testified before the Senate saying they were part of an alleged hit squad in Davao they said killed at Duterte's behest. Legislators found no proof of their testimony, which the president's aides dismiss as fabrication.

The ICC case will come from Edgar Matobato, who came out of hiding last week and in September had testified before the Senate that he had killed more than 50 people in the Davao area.

In a television interview, his lawyer, Jude Sabio, said Matobato would file a case with the court in The Hague this month or in early April.

"Murder is a serious crime. If it is committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population, it constitutes a crime against humanity," Sabio said.

Retired policeman Arturo Lascañas has testified to killing alongside Matobato and last week said he believed more witnesses would speak against Duterte to prevent themselves being "erased".

Duterte's chief lawyer, Salvador Panelo, said the president was not threatened by any possible international court case.

"The extrajudicial killings here are being done by the members of the (drug) syndicate themselves," Panelo told news channel ANC.

"The president is not behind it, neither (are) the police."

In a report last month, Amnesty International said the drug killings appeared to be "systematic, planned and organized" by authorities and could constitute crimes against humanity.

In a series of reports last year, Reuters showed police had a 97 percent kill rate in drug operations, the strongest proof yet that police were summarily shooting suspects.

An ICC prosecutor in October said the tribunal might have jurisdiction to prosecute those accused of the killings.

Duterte has little love for the ICC and has described it as "useless".

Asked on Monday about the prospect of going to jail, Duterte stood by what he said were clear instructions to police to kill if their lives were in danger, and reiterated that he took full responsibility for the crackdown.

"I will do what I say in public and I am ready to face the consequences," he told a news conference. "If I go to prison, so be it."

Lagman to Duterte: don't ignore ICC

Reacting to reports of Matobato's plan to file a case at the ICC, opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman said the Duterte administration should not ignore the global court, which can step in and prosecute cases involving crimes against humanity committed in the country.

“The Duterte administration must not dismiss with a cavalier attitude the possibility of the International Criminal Court (ICC) taking jurisdiction over charges against President Duterte for involvement, enticement and/or condonation of extrajudicial killings related to the deadly campaign against the drug menace which may be considered crimes against humanity,” Lagman said Tuesday .

The ICC, he explained, can step in on the basis of the principle of complementarity, “if the Philippines is shown to be unwilling or unable to investigate, prosecute, and try in good faith.”

Lagman elaborated: “This principle of jurisdiction interplays with the principle of complementarity. It means national jurisdictions, just like the Philippines, have primacy over the ICC, as far as investigating, prosecuting and trying cases – like the crime against humanity of murder under the Rome Statute of the ICC – are concerned.”

The Philippines ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC August 30,  2011. The country became the 117th state party to the treaty, the second ASEAN country to do so.

It effectively localized the Rome Statute of the ICC when it enacted on December 11, 2009 R.A. No. 9851 entitled “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.”

According to Lagman, the principle of command responsibility has been institutionalized under R.A. No. 9851 wherein “a superior shall be criminally responsible as a principal for such crimes committed by subordinates under his/her effective command or control or effective authority and control as the case may be as a result his/her failure to properly exercise control over such subordinates”.

According to Lagman, the Supreme Court in Boac vs. Cadapan ruled on May 31, 2011 that R.A. No. 9851 enunciated “command responsibility as a form of criminal complicity on crimes against international humanitarian law, genocide and other crimes.”