Government Media News Analysis

Jude Law’s Hague act

Jude Josue L. Sabio at the ICC

Meet the other ‘Jude Law’ – aka, legal practitioner Jude Josue L. Sabio (photo, right) – another actor in another staged Filipino melodrama. He was on location in Holland earlier this week, in The Hague – the seat of the Dutch Government and a bastion of the United Nations – filming one of the scenes for The Monster from Mindanao, the latest big-budget blockbuster from Liberal Party Studios Inc., the wealthiest dark-entertainment production company in the Philippines.

Synopsis of the plot. Scripted as a docu-drama, Monster is based on a true fiction – that the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is a genocidal madman who’s left a trail of death across his country that stretches back nearly quarter of a century. The previous Philippine justice department spent six-years investigating Duterte when he was still mayor of Davao City and in all that time failed to build a prosecutable case against him. Loosely based on the equivalent to reports of Bigfoot sightings, Monster is another offering in the fantasy-epic genre from Dreamfactoryworks, Liberal Party Studios’ creative division.

The Hague scene is shot outside the International Criminal Court (ICC) where Sabio holds aloft the 77-page complaint with which he hopes to fell the president and 11 members of his administration and advisory team – in a bid to have them charged with “mass murder” and crimes against humanity; “serious violations committed as part of a large-scale attack against any civilian population”. It’s a gripping moment in the action and publicity agents for Liberal Party Studios – the Philippine National Inquirer among them – are using the scene to promote the production globally.

The main cast. Self-confessed butcher and assassin with 50 hits to his name, Edgar Matobato (photos, left & centre), whom Sabio just happens to be representing as legal counsel back home; killer-fugitive, retired senior police officer Arthur Lascañas, thought to be on the lam in Singapore; former Liberal Party chief justice of the Philippines, Leila De Lima, presently in police custody on drugs-profiteering charges, and Leni Robredo, the Philippine Vice President whose about to be brought before the Supreme Court for allegedly acquiring her position through massive electoral irregularities.

The screenplay – along with financial and other resources – is a collaboration of Liberal Party fundraiser, Fil-Am millionaire socialite, Leila Nicolas-Lewis; her sister, wealthy rights-activist, Imelda Nicolas; plots-maestro and anti-Duterte sponsor, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV; elements of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines; some-time Inquirer Op-Ed columnist, Ted Laguatan; Jesuit priest and Ateneo de Manila University president, Father Jose Ramon Tizon Villarin; fellow Jesuit and Matobato-handler, Father Albert Alejo, and the great and the good of the Liberal Party elite.

Additional production resources and FX are supplied by European Union (assorted agencies); Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International; Liberal International, and the worldwide Liberal media consortium.

Now let’s look at the sub plot to all this. The real story.

While Sabio was delivering his Shakespearian performance before the ICC complex in the Netherlands, back in the Philippines the administration was busy preparing for the four-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit which kicks off at the International Convention Center in Pasay City, Metro Manila today.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Asean and the Philippines is rightfully proud to be hosting this landmark occasion. The heads of state from all nine other Asean member countries will be in the capital for the event and their flags will be on show as they represent their nations.

If you wanted to find the best moment to embarrass the Philippine president in front of his Asean peers, this would be it; and this would be the way – a little-known lawyer from who knows where pleading with an international court in the heart of Europe on the eve of the summit to try Duterte as a mass killer. And signaling to the leaders of Asean that the hands of their host which they will shake at the summit are covered in his people’s blood.

This is the other Jude Law’s five-minutes of fame. Maybe he believes attack is the best form of defence. Certainly he’s going to have major problems defending Matobato, an alleged perjurer and a self-admitted hit man for the shadowy Davao Death Squad on whose testimony much of the futile nuisance complaint to the ICC rests. Since its founding in 2001, the court has received more than 12,000 such pleas, only six of which have been upheld.

Matobato, incidentally, was charged with the illegal possession of firearms – tools of his trade presumably – two years ago, which gives some idea about the pace at which Philippine trial courts work.

Furthermore, what Jude may possess in bravado he certainly seems to lack in legal acumen, particularly where the international court is concerned. Its rules are clear: a case cannot be filed against a foreign national until all legal mechanisms in the domestic arena have been exhausted. That has not been done which voids this complaint-cum-publicity-stunt right there. In other words, Jude Sabio jumped the gun; the Philippines has jurisdictional primacy over the ICC.

We know it must be confusing for him but maybe a first-year law student could explain to Jude the difference between a court of first instance and a court of last resort which is the ICC’s designation. The real crime here is the death of the tree that was used to produce the pulp for the 77 paper pages on which this naïve anecdotal and factually barren screenplay was typed.

It’s appropriate that Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, because this one certainly is. But more than that it’s a particularly cynical lost cause, attempting as it does to embarrass the president of his country and switch the focus from a pending case in which this lawyer is involved by creating an entirely new one. It amount to nothing more than a clumsy and reckless diversionary tactic that has no regard for the country, its people, its democracy and, significantly, its law.

We don’t hold the legal profession in particularly high regard at the best of times, but even by their standards this is one of the most shameful acts of wanton legalistic vandalism we can recall. It borders on treason. Sabio may believe in the Machiavellian thesis, ‘the end justifies the means’ but, ironically, it looks like the means he employed in bringing his complaint will justify its own end.

Presumably, Jude Sabio is being well remunerated for his role as the unlikely monster slayer in this production; presumably too, he was given bags of travel expenses – The Hague is not a cheap place; it’s the 16th most expensive city in the world according to Matador Network’s “travelstoke” app. A McMeal at McDonalds in The Hague costs PHP380, in Manila it costs PHP125. A 0.33 litre bottle of Coke there costs PHP118.59 against PHP23.86 in the Philippines.

We have a fair idea who’s paying Sabio’s appearance fee, which is likely to be a large one – and it’s certainly not Matobato. But there’s plenty of money behind this production and no limit to the amount of publicity that can be called up. Sabio, quite coincidentally, is an occasional columnist for the Inquirer, submitting opinion and commentary pieces as he did on 29 September last year.

He used that column to explain why his client, Matobato, had failed to execute an affidavit during the three years he was under a witness protection programme provided by De Lima. This had been queried at a hearing in the Philippine Senate two weeks earlier at which Matobato had given damning testimony against Duterte.

OK, it was a hearing, not a court case so the sub judice rule doesn’t apply. But we really question the ethics of a lawyer presenting a legal defence on an issue of national importance through the medium of a national newspaper – notwithstanding that the media believe they actually are courts with powers to prosecute. But that’s another story.

And so, getting back to Liberal Party Production Inc’s Monster, all the signs are that this could go down as the biggest box-office disaster since GDFC Files, the movie that never got made after the Global Filipino Diaspora Council – a clandestine Yahoo Group of LP insiders – shot itself in the foot by leaving its plotlines for a large work on Duterte disruption viewable to the public on its message board which it has inadvertently left open.

There is a movie to be made here – possibly a politics and court intrigue in which a small-town lawyer seeks to propel himself to fame and fortune with a manufactured case that aims to bring down a president. Sounds fanciful, we know. But hey, this is Jollywood; it’s where dreams are made – where political fictions are spun and where big bucks pay for the plots.

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