By Vanne Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III welcomed on Tuesday lawyer Jude Sabio’s reported plan to withdraw his 2017 complaint against President Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Sotto said the planned withdrawal of the ICC complaint will reduce the administration’s burden of having to defend the chief executive’s policies from critics, particularly his controversial campaign against illegal drugs.
CNN Philippines on Tuesday reported that Sabio had prepared an affidavit asking ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to set aside and junk his communication about the supposed extrajudicial killings carried out during Duterte’s war on drugs.
The report quoted Sabio as saying the complaint was being used by Duterte’s critics for propaganda.
“It’s a welcome thing…It’s a welcome action by Attorney Sabio because makakabawas sa mga initindi ng national govenrment na mga pintas-pintas, eh (it will ease the national government’s burden about criticisms),” Sotto told reporters in a phone interview.
“Maganda ‘yong nangyari ‘yan, para maka-concentrate ang executive department, ang national government, sa pag-deliver ng basic services imbes na pagsangga sa mga pintasero, pintasera (It’s good that it happened, so that the executive department, the national government, can focus on delivering basic services instead of responding to critics).”
Sotto, a staunch anti-illegal drugs advocate, has been supportive of the administration’s fight against the illegal drug trade, despite repeatedly pointing out that it has overlooked the drug abuse prevention aspect and rehabilitation of drug users.
He also brushed aside the Social Weather Station’s (SWS) latest survey findings that the majority, or 76 percent, of Filipinos in December last year saw “many” human rights violations under Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.
More than half of the respondents also agreed with the United Nations Human Rights Council in calling for an investigation into the extrajudicial killings attributed to the drug war.
“Dati naman na talagang may reklamong ganoon eh (There has long been a complaint about the so-called human rights violations of the government). What’s new?” Sotto said of the SWS survey.
“Alam mo ‘yong balita, totoo man o hindi, sabihin mong paulit-ulit, ang paniwala ng tao nagiging totooo na, eh (You know, whether or not news is true, as long as it is being repeated, people are convinced that it is real).”
He also questioned the purpose of the survey: “What is the point of the survey? Sa tingin ba nila, sa survey na ‘yan, mababawasan ang human rights violation (Do they think, with that survey, that human rights violations will decline)? Mababawasan ba ang adik, mababawasan ang pumatay ng high, ng durog (Will it reduce the number of drug addicts, those who kill while high on drugs, the stoned)? Makakatulong ba ‘yan (Will that help), so what’s that for? Eh ‘di pulitika lang, di ba (If not, then it’s just for politics).”
In 2017, Sabio filed a complaint before the ICC accusing Duterte of committing crimes against humanity for the thousands of deaths during his drug war. He submitted accounts from self-confessed hitmen Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas, who alleged the existence of a “Davao Death Squad” which killed people upon the orders of then Davao City mayor Duterte.
Supporting Sabio’s complaint, former senator and opposition figure Antonio Trillanes IV earlier said the ICC is expected to wrap up its preliminary examination on Duterte’s supposed crimes against humanity this year. As of this writing, Trillanes has yet to comment on Sabio’s planned withdrawal of the ICC communication.