Neri Colmenares, a lawyer for the families of the victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) in the Philippines, hailed the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to initiate investigations on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
In his reaction to the ICC’s decision Wednesday night, Colmenares said justice may be near for the victims, estimated to be between 8,000 and 30,000.
“This ICC decision to investigate the EJKs in the Philippines is a major step to justice! The families of thousands of EJK victims have long asked for the accountability of the killers. Malapit na po!” Colmenares said.
The former Bayan Muna Representative serves as lawyer for the group Rise Up for Life and for Rights that was among those who filed complaints with the ICC in 2018.
In earlier interviews, Colmenares said at least seven families have identified police officers involved in the killing of suspected anti-drug operations and have resolved to press charges before the international tribunal despite threats and intimidation.
In a September 15 decision issued from its The Hague, The Netherlands headquarters, an ICC pre-trial chamber authorized the commencement of an investigation of the alleged crimes between November 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019 in the context of Duterte’s so-called war on drugs campaign.
The period also covers the time when Duterte was still Davao City mayor.
Prior to her retirement in June this year, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested for judicial authorization to proceed with investigation regarding the country’s situation in relation to Duterte’s drug war.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., fierce critic of Duterte’s drug war, also hailed the ICC decision.
“This is a historic moment for the Philippines and a crucial step towards justice and accountability,” Reyes said.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) likewise welcomed the ICC decision that came as the country’s biggest group of human rights lawyers observes its 14th founding anniversary today, September 16.
It was the NUPL that first expressed alarm over the rise of extrajudicial killings mere days into the Duterte presidency.
“It was July 4, 2016 when we first publicly called out against the madness of the extrajudicial killings in the bloody drug campaign against the poor. Now the ICC has opened the doors for a new beginning. It has been a long and tortuous journey so far,” the NUPL said.
The group’s jubilation however is marred by the killing of yet another member and officer in Mindanao, reportedly the 75th lawyer to be killed under the Duterte administration.
Human rights lawyer Atty. Juan Macababbad was shot dead by two assassins on board a motorcycle in Surallah, South Cotabato at 5:30 pm Wednesday.
Davao Today reported the victim was about to close the gates of his home in Zone 2, Brgy. Libertad when the assailants fired seven shots that killed the lawyer.
Macabbbad was vice-president of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao and NUPL founding member.
Duterte said he does not acknowledge the ICC’s authority to prosecute him, more so after the ordered the country’s withdrawal of its ratification of the Rome Statute the established the tribunal in March 2019.
The ICC however said that the Philippines was still a signatory to the treaty when a complaint against Duterte and his police officers was filed in 2018. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)