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ICC asked to proceed with investigations on Duterte gov’t’s war on drugs

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been asked to proceed with an investigation on the human rights crisis in the Philippines after the conclusion of the preliminary investigation pointing to mass murders under the Rodrigo Duterte regime.

“Following a thorough preliminary examination process, the available information indicates that members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians [between 2016 and 2019],” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.

“My Office has also reviewed information related to allegations of torture and other inhumane acts, and related events as early as 1 November 2011, the beginning of the Court’s jurisdiction in the Philippines, all of which we believe require investigation,” she added.

Bensouda said her preliminary investigation has determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of Philippines’ “war on drugs” campaign.

The prosecutor said the situation in the Philippines has been under preliminary examination since February 2018 when her office started analyzing “a large amount of publicly available information and information provided to it under article 15 of the Rome Statute.”

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is a treaty that established the permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

Lawyer Jude Sabio filed charges before the ICC on April 2017 accusing Duterte of crimes against humanity in connection with the thousands of deaths of suspected illegal drug dependents.

In 2017, former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV traveled to The Hague, The Netherlands to submit information bolstering Sabio’s charges.

The group Rise Up for Life and for Rights composed of families of the victims of Duterte’s war on drugs also submitted a complaint before the ICC in 2018.

Duterte responded by ordering the Philippines’ withdrawal of its ratification of the Rome Statute and repeatedly insulting Bensouda.

Bensouda however clarified that although the Philippines withdrew from the Rome Statute effective March 17, 2019, the ICC retains jurisdiction over crimes that are alleged to have occurred on the territory of the country during the period when it was still a party to the statute.

“Moreover, these crimes are not subject to any statute of limitation,” she explained.

Karapatan photo

Welcome development

Bensouda’s announcement was welcomed by human rights and activist groups as a “long-awaited step towards justice and accountability.”

“[I]t is yet another damning indictment of the Duterte government’s murderous policies that have killed — and continue to kill — thousands of Filipinos with impunity,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“Karapatan, together with the families of the victims of the drug war and other human rights advocates, welcomes this significant and much-needed development amid the backdrop of the rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines,” Palabay added.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said that one of Duterte’s grossest crimes is its so-called war on illegal drugs.

“In spite of the thousands upon thousands killed, the illegal drugs scourge has gone unabated, proving it is ineffective,” Reyes said.

The ICC prosecutor’s findings is another clear basis why darkness should never be allowed to reign over our country. The regime of state-sponsored killings must be stopped,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Hopes for justice of drug war victims’ mothers buoyed after passing letters to Pope

By Visayas Today

Two Filipinas who lost young sons to the bloody war on drugs being waged by President Rodrigo Duterte believe their hopes for justice received a major boost after letters they wrote seeking the help of Pope Francis were received by the pontiff’s aides in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, October 9.

Marissa Lazaro, who lost her 20-year old son Chris in 2017, and Katherine Bautista, who found her 21-year old stepson John Jezreel in a Manila morgue days after he went missing in January 2017, were in Rome as part of the post-performance talk of the play “Tao Po” (Is Anybody There?), a four-part monologue by cultural activist Mae Paner, who portrays characters from the murderous campaign that human rights groups say may have claimed upwards of 30,000 lives since mid-2016, when Rodrigo Duterte became president.

The play is making the rounds of six European cities, including Rome, which hosts thousands of migrant Filipino workers and where supporters of Duterte have mounted a campaign to boycott the performance.

The two mothers are involved with Rise Up for Life and Rights, a faith-based support group for families of victims of extrajudicial killings that has filed a complaint against Duterte before the International Criminal Court.

This week, Rise Up, supported by the National Union of People’s Lawyers filed a petition asking the ICC to admit more evidence against Duterte.

In response to the ICC’s opening of a preliminary examination into the allegations, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the Court, which maintains it retains jurisdiction over complaints filed while the country was still a member.

Marissa Lazaro’s handwritten note to Pope Francis. (Photo courtesy of Rise Up for Life and for Rights.)

Bautista and Lazaro had to maneuver through the crush of thousands of people who filled St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s general audience.

In a message to reporters on social media, Lazaro said: “Nag-abot ang paningin namin ni Pope. Saya-saya ko kasi nung abutin nung mama yung sulat, ko pakiramdam ko nakarating sa kanya ang mensahe para sa hustisya sa anak ko.”

(The Pope and I locked gazes. I was so happy when an aide accepted my letter, I felt certain my message asking justice for my son had reached him.)

Bautista, on the other hand, said she wept: “Naiyak ako. Iba pakiramdam ng saya na sa Roma ko pa nakita ang Papa. Paulit-ulit akong nagsabi ng, ‘Please get this’! Kaya nung kinuha ang sulat ko nakaramdam ako ng pag-asa hindi lang para sa stepson kundi para sa lahat ng biktima ng walang habas na pagpaslang sa Pilipinas.”

(I cried. It’s a different joy you feel seeing the Pope in Rome. I repeatedly said, ‘Please get this!’ Which is why when my letter was received I felt hope not only for my stepson but for all the victims of the indiscriminate killings in the Philippines.)

Pope Francis waves to well-wishers at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (Photo courtesy of Rise Up for Life and for Rights.)

Even before the Tao Po team arrived, Duterte supporters have been hounding Philippine human rights advocates who have brought the campaign against the war on drugs to Europe, including the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In Iceland, which Duterte vilified for spearheading a resolution seeking an investigation into the war on drugs and its massive death toll, Lazaro was hounded by supporters of the president who interrupted her account at a forum of her son’s death and accused her of “dramatizing” her story. #