Gov’t loses bid to stop probe of Duterte’s drug war

Groups welcome decision; urges Marcos to let investigations continue

Local groups welcomed the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to reject the Philippine government’s appeal to stop its investigations into thousands of cases of extrajudicial killings in Davao City and under the previous Rodrigo Duterte government.

In announcement Tuesday, July 18, the international tribunal said the Philippine government failed to show any error in the pre-trial chamber’s decision to authorize the investigation.

The Hague-based ICC also found that the Philippine government had not met its burden of proof to show its investigation would be “unnecessary or disproportionate.”

Human rights group Karapatan said it is high time the ICC investigation proceeds without a hitch to give justice to the victims of Duterte’s anti-drug war.

“There is urgent need for international mechanisms such as the ICC to come in because all domestic investigation mechanisms presented by the Duterte and the current Marcos regime in response to calls for justice and accountability are ineffective and only meant to window-dress the current dire human rights situation,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Karapatan lauded the families of the families of victims and their lawyers for their “courage, perseverance and tenacity” in having the investigations continue.

“Let this welcome development further inspire the Filipinos’ struggle for justice and accountability. We remain steadfast in the call to hold Duterte and those responsible for the bloody drug war and other human rights violations held fully accountable,” Palabay said after learning of the ICC decision.

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) said the ICC decision is a significant victory for Duterte’s drug war victims and for the ICC’s efforts to hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable.  

“It also sends a strong message to governments around the world that they cannot violate international law with impunity,” it added.

The International Criminal Court announces its judgement on the continuation of the investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines as July 18 in Brussels, Belgium. (ICC photo)

Escaping accountability

Upon submissions of complaints to the ICC on the Duterte government’s drug war killings starting 2017, the Philippine government in March 2018 withdrew its participation in the tribunal in an attempt to save the former president and cohorts from trial.

Previously, both Duterte and top police generals publicly bragged about the killing of thousands of suspected illegal drug personalities.

With a Duterte as vice president and their respective dynasties as allies, the current Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration upheld the move to reject ICC’s investigations.

The Marcos government also echoed the Duterte government’s line the ICC investigations violate Philippine sovereignty since the country is no longer a part of the tribunal.

Rights groups however pointed out that the complaints were received when the Philippines was still a signatory to the Rome Statute that created the tribunal.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) president Renato Reyes Jr. yesterday urged the government to stop invoking sovereignty just to escape accountability for the killings, even for just the 6,000 victims it acknowledged from 2016 to 2018.

“It seems that when it comes to the question of human rights accountability, the current regime does not try to hide how very much the same it is to the previous regime. No rebranding and no pretensions there of any sort. Just a firm commitment to the same brand of impunity that became a hallmark the past regime,” Reyes said.

‘Killings continue’

Members of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, an organization of families of victims of the killings, gathered at the Boys Scourts Monument in Quezon City Tuesday to await ICC’s announcement of its decision.

Amy Jane Lee of Rise Up said: “We will continue to speak up, find justice and struggle. Duterte is no longer president but the killings continue.”

“The truth is, ICC’s decision does not even erase the pain. Only time, humility of the aggressors and their accountability would heal our wounds,” Lee added.

Their lawyers however cautioned the families that the ICC decision only ruled on the government’s petition to defer the investigations but refused to rule on the challenge of jurisdiction and admissibility.

“The victims intend to communicate with the Office of the Prosecutor, as well as the Office of the Public Counsel for Victims, and have sought to be represented by an independent legal representative as well,” members of the National Union of Peoples’ lawyers said.

‘Not worried’

In a radio interview, Senator Ronald de la Rosa said he is not worried about the ICC investigation saying he will just take extra precautions when travelling abroad.

Among those named as perpetrators of the drug war killings, de la Rosa said his current travel plans are between Manila and Davao anyway.

De La Rosa was director general of the Philippine National Police when the killings were launched in 2016.

Former president Duterte has yet to issue a statement about the ICC decision. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)