Philippine lawyer to withdraw ICC complaint against Duterte

MANILA (Reuters) - A Philippines lawyer who filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of murder in a bloody anti-drugs crackdown said on Tuesday he will no longer pursue the case.

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his fourth State of the Nation Address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo

The complaint filed by attorney Jude Sabio in 2017 is one of several communications to the court calling for Duterte’s indictment over thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings during his campaign against narcotics.

“I fervently request that it be expunged or erased from the record, and that it should not be used in any way in the ongoing preliminary examination,” Sabio said in a 28-page letter addressed to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

Sabio is the lawyer for Edgar Matobato, a man who has testified in the Philippines Senate that he was part of a hit squad that operated on Duterte’s orders.

In his letter, Sabio said the ICC case had been used by opposition politicians as a “tool for propaganda” and should therefore be “thrashed and set aside”.

Former Senator Antontio Trillanes, one of Duterte’s most vocal opponents, said the president’s allies must have a hand in Sabio’s decision, saying it was an indication they are worried about the ICC case.

There was no immediate comment from Duterte’s office.

Under ICC rules, a prosecution could still proceed after a submission were withdrawn by an external party.

While a complaint from a single, external party could alert the prosecutor to possible crimes, it would not in itself be the basis for a case. The prosecutor’s office would initiate its own investigation to determine whether crimes under the ICC’s statute had been committed and warranted charges.

In a December 2019 report, the office of the ICC prosecutor said it would aim to finalize a preliminary examination to enable it to reach a decision on whether to seek authorization to open an investigation into the Philippines.

Duterte has been dismissive of the ICC process.

The firebrand leader unilaterally withdrew in March 2018 from the ICC’s founding treaty, saying it skirted due process and the presumption of his innocence and sought to portray him as a “ruthless and heartless violator of human rights”.

Last month he said he would refuse to cooperate if put on trial.

Human rights groups say Duterte’s anti-drugs crackdown involved systematic executions and police cover-ups. Police reject that and say the nearly 7,000 people they have killed were armed drug suspects who resisted arrest.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Alex Richardson