Philippine lawyer says he wants ‘death squad president’ in court

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Philippine attorney Jude Sabio says he hasn’t been home for a year, steers clear of public events and is forever looking over his shoulder after accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of crimes against humanity.

“We have no ill will against him,” he added. “We know it (the complaint) will not proceed beyond preliminary examination.”

“THE PUNISHER”

In an interview, Sabio described Duterte as a “death squad president” who bragged in public about killing criminals and promised voters he would kill thousands in an anti-drug crackdown if elected.

Duterte earned the nickname “the Punisher” because of allegations he operated a death squad that killed more than 1,000 criminals when he was Davao mayor. He suggested during a televised presidential election debate in 2016 that more would die if he became president.

“I do not want to commit a crime. But if by chance, God would place me there (as president), you watch out,” he said in widely reported comments. “This 1,000 will be 100,000. You will see the fish in Manila Bay become fat, I will throw you there.”

On the day of his inauguration in June 2016, he told supporters: “If you know any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”

Since Duterte took office, 4,021 people have been killed in what police call legitimate operations against “drug personalities” they say ended in shootouts, according to police data. About 2,300 other drug-related homicides have been blamed by police on vigilantes.

Human rights groups say police take their cue from Duterte’s rhetoric and accuse them of executing suspects, mostly drug users and small-time pushers from slum districts. Police deny that and Duterte insists security forces can kill only in self-defence.

When he made the ICC complaint, Sabio said he was broke and needed sponsors to pay for his flight to The Hague. He had undergone an angioplasty and been through a marriage breakup, and was working out of an office his friend let him use for free.

He says he is still not fully recovered but he had no regrets.

“I always thought in the past the cases I fought, no matter how small, were preparing me for something big in the future,” said Sabio, who was a criminal lawyer in Manila for two decades before his marriage ended, prompting him to return south to his home city of Cagayan de Oro in 2015 to open his own practice.

“Fate directed me to the ICC.”

Sabio’s involvement started when a man named Edgar Matobato testified to a Senate inquiry in September 2016 that he was a hit man who killed at Duterte’s behest when he was Davao City mayor. Sabio said he learned from a priest that Matobato had no lawyer, so he volunteered.

The inquiry concluded there was no proof of a Davao death squad. It was reopened in February 2017 when a second self-confessed assassin testified, but senators again concluded there was insufficient evidence.

Sabio went to The Hague two months later to file a complaint he said is backed by many Filipinos, among them some of Duterte’s political opponents.

Two of those, lawmakers Gary Alejano and Antonio Trillanes, have filed a supplementary communication with the ICC to reinforce Sabio’s 77-page complaint. Both have welcomed the ICC’s preliminary examination.

Sabio said he knows what he’s doing will anger most Filipinos, but he’s undeterred.

“Popularity cannot be invoked as a defence in the ICC, it is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

“I don’t care if millions of Filipinos will look at me as a villain.”

(This version of the story corrects paragraph 19 to show Sabio was lawyer for 20 years in Manila, not Cagayan de Oro)

“We have no ill will against him,” he added. “We know it (the complaint) will not proceed beyond preliminary examination.”

“THE PUNISHER”

In an interview, Sabio described Duterte as a “death squad president” who bragged in public about killing criminals and promised voters he would kill thousands in an anti-drug crackdown if elected.

Duterte earned the nickname “the Punisher” because of allegations he operated a death squad that killed more than 1,000 criminals when he was Davao mayor. He suggested during a televised presidential election debate in 2016 that more would die if he became president.

“I do not want to commit a crime. But if by chance, God would place me there (as president), you watch out,” he said in widely reported comments. “This 1,000 will be 100,000. You will see the fish in Manila Bay become fat, I will throw you there.”

On the day of his inauguration in June 2016, he told supporters: “If you know any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”

Since Duterte took office, 4,021 people have been killed in what police call legitimate operations against “drug personalities” they say ended in shootouts, according to police data. About 2,300 other drug-related homicides have been blamed by police on vigilantes.

Human rights groups say police take their cue from Duterte’s rhetoric and accuse them of executing suspects, mostly drug users and small-time pushers from slum districts. Police deny that and Duterte insists security forces can kill only in self-defence.

When he made the ICC complaint, Sabio said he was broke and needed sponsors to pay for his flight to The Hague. He had undergone an angioplasty and been through a marriage breakup, and was working out of an office his friend let him use for free.

He says he is still not fully recovered but he had no regrets.

“I always thought in the past the cases I fought, no matter how small, were preparing me for something big in the future,” said Sabio, who was a criminal lawyer in Manila for two decades before his marriage ended, prompting him to return south to his home city of Cagayan de Oro in 2015 to open his own practice.

“Fate directed me to the ICC.”

Sabio’s involvement started when a man named Edgar Matobato testified to a Senate inquiry in September 2016 that he was a hit man who killed at Duterte’s behest when he was Davao City mayor. Sabio said he learned from a priest that Matobato had no lawyer, so he volunteered.

The inquiry concluded there was no proof of a Davao death squad. It was reopened in February 2017 when a second self-confessed assassin testified, but senators again concluded there was insufficient evidence.

Sabio went to The Hague two months later to file a complaint he said is backed by many Filipinos, among them some of Duterte’s political opponents.

Two of those, lawmakers Gary Alejano and Antonio Trillanes, have filed a supplementary communication with the ICC to reinforce Sabio’s 77-page complaint. Both have welcomed the ICC’s preliminary examination.

Sabio said he knows what he’s doing will anger most Filipinos, but he’s undeterred.

“Popularity cannot be invoked as a defence in the ICC, it is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

“I don’t care if millions of Filipinos will look at me as a villain.”

(This version of the story corrects paragraph 19 to show Sabio was lawyer for 20 years in Manila, not Cagayan de Oro)

 

Zainab Sa’id