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Senators back Duterte amid International Criminal Court charges.

Summary: Timing of case meant to embarrass president before Asean summit, officials say

Barbara Mae Dacanay, Correspondent

Manila: Senators allied with President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday assailed the filing of human rights case against the Philippine leader at The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC).

A Filipino lawyer representing a self-confessed Duterte hitman lodged the criminal case with the court, alleging Duterte's involvement in a dreaded death squad.

The death squad is seen behind the hundreds of deaths in Davao City, southern Philippines, where Duterte served as mayor. In the ICC filing, the lawyer also pointed to Duterte's responsibility after he urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) to kill thousands in his campaign against illegal drug trade since he became president in July last year.

"The timing in the filing of the case against President Duterte in ICC is obviously meant to embarrass him in the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit," said Senator JV Ejercito.

Ejercito is a son of former President Joseph Estrada, who was earlier convicted of plunder and perjury, but was later pardoned by his successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The Philippines will host the Asean leaders' summit in November 2017.

The filing of the complaint by lawyer Jude Sabio, who represented Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hit man and member of the Davao Death Squad, was "part of a conspiracy to oust the President by destroying his credibility in the international community," said Ejercito.

Ejercito's brother, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, had also faced plunder charges in connection with the so-called "pork-barrel" scam .

Police and vigilante tally

The Philippine National Police admitted responsibility for the killing of 2,500 alleged drug users and pushers who resisted arrest, and blamed drug syndicates for more than 5,000 killings since July.

To accuse Duterte of criminality for the death of drug users and pushers would mean cuddling "drug pushers who are fighting back against the police," said Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto, adding if the complaint will have any value at all, it would be "a dictionary changer (in defining what criminality means)".

"The complaint is baseless," said Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, adding a senate inquiry has concluded there was "no state-sponsored killing in drug-related cases".

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a Duterte critic said: "We would now have a truly independent body that could find out the whole truth behind the slaughter of thousands of Filipinos and prosecute those behind it to include the enablers who allowed or encouraged it to happen."

In a letter to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that was filed at The Hague on April 24, Sabio said, "Your favourable action on this matter would not only serve the noble ends of international criminal justice but would also be the beginning of the end of this dark, obscene, murderous and evil era in the Philippines."

'Mass murder'

Sabio's letter was accompanied by a report entitled, "The Situation of Mass Murder in the Philippines; Rodrigo Duterte: The Mass Murderer," including findings of international human rights watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Duterte has been "repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously" committing extrajudicial executions through the Davao Death Squad since 1988 (when he was mayor of Davao City) and to the present when Duterte became president in July, said Sabio.

The lawyer further addthat Bensouda should affirm the criminal charges for crimes against humanity against Duterte and his 11 senior officials, issue a warrant of arrest against them, try them, convict them and sentence them with prison term or life imprisonment.

Included in the complaint were Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre; Philippine National Police Director General Ronald De la Rosa; House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez; former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno; Police Superintendent Edilberto Leonardo; Senior Police Officer Sanson Buenaventura; Police Superintendent Royina Garma; National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gierran; Solicitor General Jose Calida; Sen. Richard Gordon; and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Apr 25, 2017
Words:660
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