Gov’t fumes, but rights groups applaud ICC probe continuation on drug war killings

The government fumed, but human rights advocates applauded the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) announcement to resume its investigations the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines.

Human rights group Karapatan said the ICC announcement is welcome news, adding it hopes it would result in the conviction of former President Rodrigo Duterte it says is accountable for the deaths of thousands.

“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,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“This should also serve as a warning to the current regime for essentially continuing Duterte’s policies on the drug war,” Palabay added.

Palabay also said the ICC decision should strongly spur an independent investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

In a separate statement, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said the ICC is correct in its observation that there has been no thorough investigation conducted on complaints of extrajudicial killings in the government’s anti-drug war.

“The ICC correctly observed that the various domestic initiatives and proceedings, assessed collectively, do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation,” Reyes said.

“This observation is consistent with the views echoed during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review where UN member-states pressed the Philippines for accountability of police personnel involved in the drug war killings,” he added.

Done waiting

In an announcement in The Netherlands last Thursday, January 26, the ICC said its pre-trial chamber has decided to resume the investigation into killings under the Duterte administration.

The development ended its 14 months suspension of the probe that gave the Philippine government a chance to prove its prosecution of police personnel accused of killing suspected drug personalities.

Prosecutor Karim Khan said the ICC was not satisfied with the Philippine government’s efforts, thus the international chamber’s approval to finally move the process of investigations.

“Following a careful analysis of the materials provided by the Philippines, the Chamber is not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations that would warrant a deferral of the Court’s investigations on the basis of the complementarity principle,” the ICC said in its report.

“Moreover, the number of cases reviewed by the DOJ Panel (302 as of last count) is very low when compared with the estimated number of killings that allegedly occurred in the context of ‘war on drugs’ operations,” the ICC added.


Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla maintained a combative posture in his reply to the announcement, saying the chamber’s decision is an “insult” to the Philippines, which is no longer a member of the ICC.

After repeatedly daring the international community to indict him on his bloody record on the government’s war on drugs, Duterte made an about face in March 2018 and ordered the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute of 1998 creating the ICC.

“[W]hen they come in here trying to assert jurisdiction in a country that is not even a member of the ICC, it really begs the question, it behooves us to think what good they think they are in a country that is sovereign and free,” Remulla fumed in a press briefing last Friday.  

Remulla added that the Philippines is unlike other failed states that have no functioning judiciary and strong military where the ICC are expected to be.

In earlier public pronouncements, including repeated appearances at the UN in Geneva late last year, Remulla said the Marcos government sees no urgency in rejoining the ICC.

‘Stop stonewalling’

Bayan’s Reyes however urged the Marcos government to quit its resistance to the ICC probe.

“[It] should show full cooperation so that justice can be rendered to the thousands of victims of Duterte’s failed drug war,” Reyes said.

Reyes pointed out that there have been admissions that many top police officials are actually involved in the illegal drug trade makes the drug war a sham.

“Street-level pushers were executed while police officials recycled and re-sold the illegal drugs,” Reyes said. 

“It is time for the Philippines to cooperate with the ICC and stop its stonewalling tactics. Mr. Marcos cannot wash of this bloody stain on the Philippines rights record no matter how frequent his foreign trips may be. Only true justice can put a decisive close to this horrific chapter in our history,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)