ICC resumes full-blown probe of Duterte drug war
Unsatisfied with the Philippine government’s investigations of the numerous killings in the war on drugs during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and when he was Davao City mayor, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has cleared the way for a full-blown probe by its own prosecutor.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla called the ICC move an insult to the Philippine government, but human rights groups cheered the ICC’s decision and one said that this could serve as a warning to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. not to continue the way his predecessor waged the anti-narcotics campaign.
In its Jan. 26 order authorizing the resumption of its prosecutor’s own investigation, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) acknowledged the efforts made by the Philippine government but said these “do not sufficiently, or at all, mirror the Court’s investigation” of the drug war killings.
“The Chamber is therefore not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations, or is making a real or genuine effort to carry out such investigations and any subsequent criminal prosecutions…,” the court said.
According to government figures, 6,252 individuals were killed in the brutal drug war from July 2016 to May 2022. Human rights groups estimate that this number could be three times more.
No real progress
In November 2021, the PTC directed ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to suspend his investigation at the request of the Philippine government, which said that it was conducting its own probe into allegations that Duterte and other officials of his administration committed crimes against humanity in the drug war.
Seeing no real progress in the government probe, Khan requested the PTC in June 2022 to allow him to proceed with his investigation.
The investigation will cover the period from Nov. 1, 2011, when the country ratified the Rome Statute that created the ICC and Duterte was still mayor of Davao City, to March 16, 2019, a day before the country’s withdrawal from the ICC on orders of the former President took effect.
The ICC is asserting jurisdiction over cases involving crimes against humanity in the Philippines during this nearly eight-year period, but the government rejects its authority.
The ICC position was supported by the Philippines’ own Supreme Court which ruled in 2021 that withdrawing from the Rome Statute “does not discharge a state party from the obligations it has incurred as a member.”
The PTC said in its latest decision that “various domestic initiatives and proceedings” by the government “do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps being carried out with a view to conducting criminal proceedings.”
It said that the documentation on recommended indictments of police officers allegedly involved in the killings were “differing in detail and scope” and contained only “brief summaries” and “limited details.”
It noted that investigations conducted by various government agencies “do not, at present and based on the material before the Chamber, amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps.”
Remulla said that should the ICC summon Duterte or issue an arrest warrant against him or any alleged “mastermind” of the killings, the government will oppose such “impositions” unless the tribunal comes into the country as a “hostile force.”
“They’re insulting us. The ICC is very wrong right now because we are doing what it takes to change the situation and to build capacity in the country to be able to address all of these problems that came up before,” he said at a press briefing. But he said the government was still open to a dialogue with the ICC. “If they want data from us, we will provide them the data … and that’s OK with us” Remulla said.
Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, the previous justice secretary, said the government would appeal for a halt to the ICC investigation under the “complementarity principle,” which gives precedence to the country’s legal system to try local crimes.
Track down ‘architect’
He said the country’s judicial system was still “well-functioning” despite “resource limitations.”
The ICC, however, said that the arguments of Philippine officials against the court’s investigation “due to the principle of nonintervention are misplaced, as they misappreciate the court’s complementarity system.”
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes that the ICC could soon hold accountable those responsible for the brutal drug war.
“The ICC investigation in the Philippines is the only credible avenue for justice for the victims and their families of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs,’” it said in a statement. “The ICC offers a path forward to fill the accountability vacuum.”
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the local human rights group Karapatan, said the ICC’s move should be a “warning” to the Marcos administration not to continue Duterte’s drug war.
“With the help of international mechanisms provided by bodies like the ICC, we can make a dent on the culture of impunity that has stymied the quest for justice for so long,” Palabay said.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said the PTC decision was welcome news even if it came four years after the charges were filed against Duterte, Dela Rosa, former national police chief Oscar Albayalde and others whom it held responsible for ordering, directing and organizing the conduct of the drug war.
“The families of the victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines have long waited for justice,” NUPL said in a statement.
—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
ICC resumes probe on PH’s drug war
Marcos told: Comply with ICC probe to give justice to victims of Duterte’s drug war
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.