Palace: ICC case pullout proves opposition out to discredit Duterte

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    MALACAÑANG yesterday said the planned withdrawal of a communication filed with the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing President Duterte of crimes against humanity should serve as an eye-opener to the tribunal and the public that the political opposition is moving heaven and earth to besmirch his reputation and bring down his administration.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the statements made by lawyer Jude Sabio in his affidavit withdrawing the communication that he sent to the ICC in 2017 speaks volumes on the political opposition’s continued efforts to tarnish the reputation of the President.

    “The ICC has to wake up from its stupor if not ignorance. It should realize by now that it is being used by disgruntled and discredited persons to advance their goal of besmirching the reputation of PRRD (President Duterte) and achieving their impossible dream of bringing down the Duterte presidency,” Panelo said.

    He reiterated that the international tribunal has no jurisdiction over Duterte and the Philippines even as it continues to accept complaints against the country’s officials.
    Panelo maintained the Philippines never completed the legal processes to formalize the adoption of the Rome Stature that created ICC, which means that the country is not a party to the tribunal.

    Sabio filed a communication with the ICC in April 2017 accusing Duterte and other Philippine government officials of committing crimes against humanity through extrajudicial killings committed by the Davao Death Squad in Davao City when Duterte was still mayor and which allegedly continued through the war on drugs.

    Sabio announced on Tuesday that he was withdrawing his 2017 communication, claiming he no longer wants to be used by former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and the political opposition for their dirty politics against the Duterte government.

    Sabio was a former lawyer of Trillanes. They allegedly had a falling out after the latter supposedly failed to settle legal fees he owed the former.

    HEAVIER LAWS VS LYING WITNESSES

    Following Sabio’s announcement, Sen. Panfilo Lacson underscored the need for a stronger law that will impose heavier penalties on lying witness and for public officials and employees who may be behind them.

    Lacson noted witnesses now have the penchant of telling a version of a story the first day, and another version another day, depending who they (witnesses) are talking to.

    He said lying has been a common occurrence in Senate inquiries and hearings in trial courts as exemplified by Sabio, Peter Joemel “Bikoy” Advincula, Arturo Lascañas, Cezar Mancao II, Mary “Rosebud” Ong, and the latest, Rodney “ninja cop” Baloyo.

    Advincula was the hooded man in the viral video ang “Totoong Narcolist” which was uploaded before the May 2016 midterm elections and which initially tagged members of the Duterte family as behind the illegal drugs trade in the country.

    Advincula later sang a different tune, implicating members of the opposition as behind the viral video.

    Lascanas was a retired cop who said he was forced to lie on the existence of the Davao Death Squad for fear of his life during a Senate inquiry on October 2016.

    Mancao was a former police officer who implicated Lacson in the killing of public relations man Salvador Dacer but later on recanted, while Ong was a former police “asset” who gave false testimonies to implicate Lacson in illegal activities when the latter was still a police official.

    Baloyo was a former member of the Pampanga Police Provincial Office who lied during a Senate inquiry on the ninja cops scandal about the details of the sham police drugs raid in Mexico town on November 2013.

    “Naging tig-singkong duling na lang ang pagsisinungaling under oath sa Pilipinas (Lying under oath in the Philippines has become cheap). That is why there is a compelling reason why we need a stronger perjury law which at the present only carries a penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period, to prison correccional in its minimum period,” Lacson said.

    Arresto mayor means a jail term of one month and one day to six months, while prision correccional has a prison term of six months and one day to six years.

    Lacson said he also personally feel prey to the lying of Angelo “Ador” Mawanay in the early 2000s. Mawanay was one of a string of paid witnesses unleashed by the Arroyo administration obsessed with putting Lacson in jail.

    “Our present perjury law only carries a prison term of six months up to two years and two months. With a penalty that light, we can expect lying witnesses not only in Senate hearings but even before the courts,” he said.

    In 2019, Lacson refiled a bill seeking heavier penalties against lying witnesses. Senate Bill 28 seeks to give lying witnesses, including public officials and employees who may be behind them, a dose of their own medicine.

    “It is noteworthy that because of these untruthful and inconsistent statements, we have witnessed how some men were robbed of their youth and freedom for a long period of time only to be freed later on account that the reason for their incarceration was based on a ‘polluted source,” Lacson said.

    Under the bill, anyone who gives false testimony in any criminal case shall suffer “the same penalty for the felony the defendant is being accused of.”

    A public official or employee who ordered such a false testimony shall face the penalty for the felony the defendant is being accused of in its maximum period, and pay a fine of up to P1 million and perpetual absolute disqualification from any appointive or elective position in government.

    NO PALACE PRESSURE

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said withdrawing the case against the President before the ICC is a welcome move since the administration can now focus on the delivery of basic services rather than be preoccupied with answering the charges.

    Lawyer Larry Gadon claimed Sabio was neither pressured by Malacañang nor paid by anyone to withdraw his ICC communication.

    Gadon, a staunch supporter of President Duterte and who spearheaded the impeachment complaint against former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, said Sabio made the decision after he realized it was all “part of the political propaganda” of the opposition to smear the reputation of the President.

    “Malacañang has nothing to do with this. President Duterte does not even mind this case.

    He has even withdrawn the country from the ICC last year, so hindi nila ito iniintindi dahil alam nila political propaganda lang ito ni Sen. Trillanes at De Lima (Malacañang has not given attention to this case because it knows that this is a political propaganda of Sen. Trillanes and De Lima),” Gadon said over ABS-CBN News Channel.

    “Uulitin ko walang kinalaman ang Malakanyang dito. Si Larry Gadon ang may kinalaman dito (I repeat that Malacañang has nothing to do with this. It was Larry Gadon who made this happen),” he added, though he clarified that he only provided “moral support” to Sabio.

    Gadon likewise said Sabio was not paid by anybody to withdraw the communication.

    “It’s not only about money. It’s about his conviction also that he realized he was taken for granted. He was just used, taken for a ride and exploited for this political propaganda against the President. He realized that the reason why he was not being provided logistical support now is because hindi naman pala totoo ang mga akusasyon (because the accusations were not true),” he said.

    Gadon, however, acknowledged that Sabio has come to realize that defending his case before the ICC will cost him money.

    “How can he continue defending this case if he is not supported logistically by these people? Basically with the case filed in an international court you cannot get things done for free. You also have expenses,” he said.

    Gadon claimed Sabio was under the employ of Trillanes when he filed the communication with the ICC. Sabio alleged received P50, 000 to P100,000 a month for his services. Trillanes supposedly owes Sabio some P700, 000 for his services to Matobato and Lascanas.

    But Gadon said it was Sabio himself who prepared the communication against Duterte though under the direction of Trillanes.

    “It was himself who prepared the communications as related or directed by Trillanes. He probably committed an error at that time but now he is doing the right thing. This is not a sudden decision by Atty. Sabio. He told me he agonized over this and finally decided after he talked to me and after he realized that these charges against the President is not backed up by evidence,” he said.

    Pressed as to why he accepted Trillanes’ direction considering that Sabio was a veteran lawyer, Gadon said the latter initially believed in the veracity of the accusations against Duterte especially since he was hired by Trillanes to serve as the legal counsel of Matobato and Lascanas who accused Duterte as being the mastermind of the Davao Death Squad.

    NO EFFECT ON ICC CASES

    Trillanes said Sabio’s withdrawal of his ICC communication will not affect the other cases pending with the tribunal.

    “Ang nagbigay ng testimonya don sa finile ni Sabio ay ang mga testigo na sina Arturo Lascanas at Edgar Matobato (Arturo Lascanas and Edgar Matobato gave the testimonies in the case filed by Sabio),” Trillanes said.

    Trillanes said assuming that the case filed by Sabio was withdrawn, it does not mean that Duterte will already be vindicated since he and former Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano also filed cases against Duterte before the ICC on June 2017 which he said was the basis for the ICC preliminary investigation to start.

    “Ang paggapang kay Sabio ng mga Duterte forces ay isang maliwanag na indication na natutuliro na sila Duterte sa ICC case na malapit nang lumabas (Getting Sabio to side with Duterte forces is a clear indication that Duterte and his minions are now panicking because of the ICC case),” he said.

    De Lima said Sabio bit the trap set by the allies of Duterte.

    “I feel sorry for Atty. Sabio. I can understand that he is going through personal issues that forced him to turn his back on the cause of the victims of mass atrocities. Whatever is the true reason for such an awful move, Atty. Sabio has become very vulnerable to the machinations from the dark forces,” De Lima said.

    She added: “I’m pretty sure there are forces, desperate ones, behind this development. I don’t have to imagine the temptation Atty. Sabio must have faced, urging him to put his own interests ahead of those he is supposed to be advocating for. Those voices of temptation could be difficult to resist, and commitments to truth and justice could waver.”

    Like Trillanes, the detained senator belittled the effect of Sabio’s move in the ICC probe.

    “At any rate, it’s too late a move, and hardly having any significant dent on the progress of the current ICC interventions. There are other communications and information presented before the ICC on the matter of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Duterte regime… The worst thing we can do is accept the false narrative that resort to the ICC and other global mechanisms for accountability is about politics or propaganda. No, this is about human lives and a quest for justice and accountability which is never a lost cause.” – With Raymond Africa and Ashzel Hachero