Philippines says it won’t deal with ICC after losing drug war appeal

Jason Gutierrez
2023.03.28
Manila
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Philippines says it won’t deal with ICC after losing drug war appeal Workers carry the remains of two Philippine drug war victims exhumed from a rented crypt at Navotas public cemetery in Manila, Feb. 28, 2022.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday said the Philippines would end communications with the International Criminal Court after The Hague-based body rejected Manila’s appeal to stop investigating his predecessor’s deadly drug war.

The ICC is investigating ex-President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged crimes against humanity related to his war on drugs, during which thousands of suspected addicts and dealers were killed by police.

While rejecting Manila’s appeal on Monday, the ICC said it was not convinced by the Philippine government’s argument that continuing with the Hague probe could jeopardize its own investigations.

Reacting, Marcos said that the Southeast Asian nation does not recognize the ICC.

“That ends all our involvement with the ICC. We can no longer appeal. The appeal has failed. In our view there’s nothing more that we can do. And so at this point, we essentially are disengaging from any contact, from any communication … with the ICC,” he told reporters.

“[W]e cannot cooperate with the ICC considering the very serious questions about their jurisdiction and about what we consider to be interference and practically attacks on the sovereignty of the republic.”

The Philippines in February formally appealed to the ICC decision to allow its prosecutor to press on with investigating the drug war, saying it has a fully working justice system.

The ICC on Monday said “as far as national investigations are concerned, the Philippines is in a position to continue its investigations irrespective of the ongoing proceedings before the Court.”

The Hague body said the Philippines failed to convince the body that it had no jurisdiction over the case because it had already rescinded from the international treaty that created the ICC. 

In 2019, Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the Rome Statute that established the tribunal, after the court began an inquiry into his drug war. The former president previously said he hoped that by disengaging from the ICC, his drug war would no longer be placed under the spotlight.

But the ICC has said it was mandated to investigate complaints from when the country was under its supervision, meaning from the time Duterte took office in 2016 until 2019.

Marcos succeeded Duterte following the 2022 election and has promised that no ICC investigator would be allowed into the country. He has taken Duterte’s position that the Philippines has a working justice system and can try its own cases.

About 8,000 suspected addicts and dealers died during the drug war under the Duterte administration (2016-22), according to official government numbers, but human rights groups have said the figure could be three times higher.

An investigation by the justice department in 2021 said that in many cases, police officers involved in the killings did not follow protocol and could be prosecuted.

So far, four police officers have been convicted of murder linked to drug war killings. Earlier this month, a court convicted former patrolman Jefrey Perez for the killings of Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, and Reynaldo de Guzman, 14.

In 2018, three officers – Arnel Oares, Jeremias Pereda and Jerwin Cruz – were found guilty of murder for killing Kian Loyd delos Santos, 17.

‘Just the start’

Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch senior researcher in the Philippines, welcomed the ICC’s ruling, saying the government has an obligation to cooperate with the international body.

“[T]he decision … doesn’t preclude Philippine authorities to also move forward with their own investigation in the meantime, if they wish to do so,” he told BenarNews on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, families of those who died in the drug war welcomed the ICC decision, but added that it was a tiny step toward justice.

“This is just the start, and the government can still try to wriggle its way out of it,” said Grace Garganta, whose 52-year-old father and 27-year-old brother were killed in the early days of Duterte’s drug war.

Her father was killed in what police claimed was a shootout. Her brother was arrested while protesting against the deadly raid in their slum neighborhood in Manila and his body was found a day later, bearing signs of torture – his face was wrapped in packaging tape.

“The relatives and survivors of the drug war will fight until the end,” she told BenarNews.

“I want to testify before the ICC because here in the Philippines justice can be bought. It is better to die fighting, than die without having been heard.”

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