ICC probe revives hope among victims’ families
After five years of grieving, the families of thousands of victims killed in the brutal war on drugs on Thursday were seeing a glimmer of hope that justice would be served to their loved ones after the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized the investigation of the charges of crimes against humanity against President Duterte.
Llore Pasco, who is still in grief over the deaths of her two sons, said she felt “excited and vindicated” by the ICC decision.
Her sons had disappeared and the authorities later said one was killed in a drug raid and the other in a robbery, and that both had fought back against officers, the typical excuse by the police in gunning down suspects.
“We’re finally going to get an answer after our loved ones were slain brutally,” she said. “In the past, we were drifting in uncertainty, but now our hopes are being rekindled.”
The ICC announced on Wednesday that its Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC) authorized the start of an investigation sought by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda before she stepped down in June. The investigation will cover the period from November 2011 to June 2016, when Duterte served as vice mayor and later mayor of Davao City, up to March 2019, after the Philippine withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, took effect.
“The chamber concludes that there is a reasonable basis for the prosecutor to proceed with an investigation, in the sense that the crime against humanity of murder appears to have been committed, and that potential case(s) arising from such investigation appear to fall within the court’s jurisdiction,” it said. The PTC said that the antidrug campaign “cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation, and the killings neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation.” There were indications of a “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population took place pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy,” it said.
Randy delos Santos, an uncle of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos who pleaded for his life before he was shot in the back of the head in 2017, said their family only got “token justice” when three Caloocan City policemen were convicted for the murder.
“But I want the truth to come out—that Kian did not have a gun and drugs with him. If they really wanted to show justice, [the court] should have included planting of evidence in the verdict,” Delos Santos said.
Laila Martisano, whose son was killed in a drug buy-bust operation on Oct. 27, 2016, said the ICC investigation is a chance for all victims of extrajudicial killings to obtain justice.
“I thank God that finally, justice may be served for the merciless killing of my son. I am happy, but I could not stop crying. We’ve been waiting for this [investigation] for so long,” Martisano said.
After her son was killed, the 60-year-old grandmother had to take multiple jobs so she could take care of her son’s three young children.
Now she’s actively helping other families cope with their grief and seek justice.
Delos Santos hopes the ICC investigation would uncover the pattern of killings and other abuses committed by the police, and open the gates to justice for many others whose cases were not given the same attention.
“For me, full justice means holding into account those who are involved in the killings—from those who ordered it to those who emboldened the perpetrators and carried out the killings. No one would be brave enough to kill if they did not get a blessing from the higher-ups,” he said.
Roque: Cases will sleep
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo repeated Duterte’s stand not to cooperate with the investigation.
Roque, at a press briefing, said the President was not bothered when he informed him about the ICC investigation.
“The President has no reaction because from the very beginning, he has been saying that he would die first before he faces foreign judges,” Roque said.
He said the ICC had no jurisdiction over the Philippines because the courts in the country “are functioning.”
“My prediction is that those cases [against Duterte] will just sleep due to the absence of cooperation, particularly from the police, and no evidence will really be gathered,” he added.
Panelo said the ICC never had any jurisdiction over the Philippines from the start as the Rome Statute was not officially published as required of a treaty that was “penal in nature.”
“The timing of this development reveals that the ICC is bent on proceeding with a case against our government officials in violation of our Constitution and in contravention with the Rome Statute that created it,” he said in a statement. “It also reveals that the ICC is being utilized as a political and propaganda apparatus by those usual suspects who will do anything to dethrone the President from his seat.”
International law professor Romel Bagares said the ICC move was the first time since World War II that a Philippine situation has become a subject of a formal investigation by an international criminal legal mechanism for mass murder involving high officials.
Show probable cause
Under the preliminary investigation stage, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) now headed by former British barrister Karim Khan will have to show there is probable cause to bring the suspects to trial, Bagares said.
Kristina Conti, a lawyer of the victims’ families who filed the charges in the ICC, said the OTP would have to gather evidence “that would lead to a determination of the persons most responsible” for the crimes alleged.
The court hasn’t named any suspects yet. However, the PTC explicitly cited Duterte and Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, the former national police chief who spearheaded the antidrug campaign, for their public statements that incited or encouraged the killing of drug suspects.
Carlos Conde, senior researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, noted that others could be held liable aside from high officials.
“This could very well mean that lower-ranking officials can also be indicted and arrested,” he said.
Under ICC rules, the OTP may request the PTC to issue arrest warrants or summonses, Bagares said.For this, Conti said, Khan will have to provide a higher quantum of evidence than what Bensouda had given to the PTC.
The expansion of the scope of the preliminary investigation to cover all other crimes under the drug war means they would also have to reach out to other victims of arrests, detention and torture, she said.
Pasco urged the government to cooperate.
“This is not even the final stage of the ICC process yet, they still have a chance to defend themselves, unlike us,” she said. “Remember we were condemned without trial, and the court is giving them a chance to explain their side.”
“Let’s not prolong each other’s agony,” Pasco said.
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