THE lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato is set to file criminal cases before an international court against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for his alleged link to the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS).
Attorney Jude Sabio said he will fly to the Netherlands by the end of March or early April to submit cases of “crimes against humanity” against Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“We have heard that the prosecutor of the ICC has spoken out saying that that case of the Philippine is already ripe for a formal investigation,” Sabio told the Philippine Star in an interview.
According to the lawyer, the testimonies of DDS members Matobato and retired SPO3 Arturo Lascañas show a pattern of similarities between the DDS killings and the deaths linked to Duterte’s controversial war against illegal drugs.
He described Matobato and Lascañas as “vital witnesses” who could prove that “the Davao death squad was used by Duterte as a template, or as a strategy or policy, for crime control through extrajudicial killings since he became president.”
“Their testimonies, which corroborate each other to prove that in Davao City when Duterte was still mayor, it was his policy or strategy to kill suspected criminals in order to control crime,” Sabio said.
More than 8,000 people have reportedly beenkilled in the drug war since Duterte took office last July, according to latest estimates. The government has repeatedly insisted that the deaths were not state-sanctioned, noting that the majority of the killings were committed by unknown vigilante suspects.
However, New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it has “found no such distinction” between deaths during police operations and extrajudicial killings.
The group stated in its report released earlier this month that “President Duterte appears to have instigated unlawful acts by the police, incited citizens to commit serious violence, and made himself criminal liable under international law for the unlawful killings as a matter of command responsibility.”
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) has also accused the Duterte administration of paying police officers “to kill thousands of alleged drug offenders in a wave of extrajudicial executions.”
Amnesty claimed that the police are behaving like the “criminal underworld” by carrying out extrajudicial executions “disguised as unknown killers and ‘contracting out’ killings.”
The majority of these killings, according to AI, “may amount to crimes against humanity.”
“We are lucky to have reports coming from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documenting the cases of extrajudicial killings in the country particularly the Amnesty International stated that there is now an ongoing policy of paying policemen to kill suspected criminals,” Sabio said.
Unfazed by the threat of facing charges before the ICC, Duterte challenged his critics to find evidence against him.
“Human rights, United Nations, that’s fine. If you have complaints, O.K. You want to file charges, fine. Look for evidence,” Duterte said.
Despite calls from various human rights groups to stop the government’s brutal crackdown on narcotics, the president reiterated his warning against drug users: “But still, I will kill you.”
Malacañang, on the other hand, also downplayed the possibility of Duterte being charged before international courts, reiterating that the killings in the country were not state-sanctioned.
In an interview with state-run Radyo ng Bayan, Philippine Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella remarked that the government is “not fighting against ethnic, racial or religious groups,” pointing that genocide is not happening in the country.
“And what we’re dealing with here are crimes like drugs and dealers and drug addiction and drug dealing. Actually, these are just police operations,” Abella added.
While Malacañang has denied genocide, the ICC, however, still has jurisdiction over any crimes against humanity which include any form of mass killing.
Matobato, who first appeared publicly during a Senate inquiry last September over the alleged extrajudicial killings related to the present administration’s war on drugs, testified that the DDS killed people under the orders of Duterte when he was still the mayor of the city.
The alleged hitman also revealed that Lascañas was the supposed “team leader” of the death squad, which the latter then denied. Lascañas, however, recanted his testimony months after.
Lascañas admitted during a press briefing that he was one of the “founders” of the group during a hearing in February.
In his affidavit submitted to the Senate committee on public order, Lascañas claimed that the DDS was responsible for the deaths of Duterte’s critics, citing part-time radio commentator Davao City director Felicisimo Cunanan, Jr., broadcaster Jun Pala, and a certain Fred Sotto, among others.
The cop also claimed that Duterte commanded the squad to bomb Davao mosques in 1993 to retaliate the bombing of San Pedro Cathedral, as well as the murder of a dance instructor to avenge Duterte’s sister.
Sought for comments on Lascañas’ claims, Duterte replied: “They are all lies. Why should I respond to lies?”
“I will not create a DDS, I have my own police department,” Duterte told reporters.
He, however, confirmed the existence of DDS but only during the martial law period.
On March 7, Duterte explained that the DDS was formed to fight the “sparrow units” of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the 1980s.
“Now, if you really ask, I am not into excuses, no apologies, but they should learn more about DDS. It was organized to combat the Sparrow before in Davao,” said Duterte, who also served as Davao City mayor for more than two decades.
The Special Partisan Unit (SPARU), also referred to as “sparrow unit,” is the hit squad of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“You can ask the people, the old guys there. It was then known as the DDS martial law,” Duterte added.