Philippines: Victims’ relatives rejoice as ICC allows drug-war probe to resume

BenarNews staff
Philippines: Victims’ relatives rejoice as ICC allows drug-war probe to resume Families of Philippine drug-war victims react to the International Criminal Court’s decision to resume an investigation into potential crimes against humanity under former President Rodrigo Duterte, as they watch the courtroom proceedings from a viewing room in Quezon City, Philippines, July 18, 2023.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Updated at 3 p.m. ET on 2023-07-18

Relatives of Filipinos slain in the Philippine drug war and human rights advocates celebrated when the International Criminal Court cleared the way Tuesday for its prosecutor to press on with investigating killings under former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan can resume the probe after a panel voted 3-2 to reject an appeal from the Philippines that sought to block the investigation, ruled Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the presiding judge at the ICC Appeals Chamber in The Hague.

“It is rejected by the appeals chamber by majority and the impugned decision is therefore confirmed,” Brichambaut, who was in the dissenting minority, said as he read out the verdict in courtroom proceedings live-streamed from the Netherlands. 

In Metro Manila, about a dozen families of victims of the Philippine drug war clutched photos of their dead loved ones as they watched from a small viewing room. 

Mary Ann Domingo, 50, lost her husband and 19-year-old son to the drug war in September 2016. Tuesday’s ruling gave her a glimmer of hope in a long quest for justice, she said. 

“I think this is the biggest gift for us families because now we feel we have an ally. This is our chance to tell everything. Our government was blind to our suffering, when they know what was being done to us,” Domingo told BenarNews. “They ignored people like me who are in the fringes of society.

“We will continue to fight and seek justice even if this takes a long time.” 

Duterte, 78, is facing two complaints at the ICC. 

One was filed by a former police officer, a self-styled assassin who accused him of ordering the deaths of opponents and criminals when Duterte served as mayor of southern Davao city. The second was filed by relatives of people killed during Duterte’s anti-drug campaign while he served as president from 2016 to 2022.

“The former president could not care less. They could make any decision they want, but he has said from the very beginning that he will never recognize the jurisdiction of a foreign court and he will never appear before foreign judges,” Harry Roque, who served as Duterte’s spokesman,  told Philippine media, after Tuesday’s ruling.

The Philippines' Office of the Solicitor General said it was “disappointed” but “will not be deterred” by the ICC ruling.

The Philippines, “through its various national and local agencies, remains fully committed to the internal investigation and prosecution of allegations connected to the anti-illegal drug campaign,” the solicitor general’s office said in a statement.

A woman holds a sign as human rights groups support families of former Philippine drug-war victims during a rally to celebrate the International Criminal Court’s decision to resume its investigation, July 18, 2023. [Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

Bryony Lau, a deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the ruling “marks the next step toward justice for victims of ‘drug war’ killings and their families.” 

“The Marcos administration should back up its stated commitment to human rights and the fight against impunity by following through on its international legal obligation to cooperate with the court’s investigation,” Lau said.

She was referring to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., whose administration has said it would not allow ICC investigators into the country as part of a probe into his predecessor’s drug war. 

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of rights group Karapatan, said the investigation needed to proceed so victims’ families could move on and get justice.  

“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 regimes in response to calls for justice and accountability are ineffective and only meant to window-dress the current dire human rights situation,” she said. 

“We remain steadfast in the call to hold Duterte and those responsible for the bloody drug war and other human rights violations be held fully accountable.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his sixth State of the Nation Address as Senate President Vicente Sotto III (left) and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco listen, at the House chamber in Metro Manila, July 26, 2021. [Reuters]

Ahead of the decision, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who served as national police chief under Duterte and was named in the crimes against humanity complaint before the international court, said he was not nervous. 

“It’s up to them whatever they want … I’m just OK, whatever, whatever the outcome,” he told reporters. 

On Monday, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the government’s legal team was determined to stop the ICC from gathering evidence on Philippine soil. 

“They are to do nothing of the sort here. They have no relevance here,” he told reporters.

He said authorities would not cooperate with ICC prosecutors who are expected to require government documents and conduct interviews to gather evidence to potentially prosecute Duterte administration officials. 

“They are not welcome in the Philippines. We will not allow their investigation because we have our own justice system, traditions, police, prosecution and courts. They cannot encroach or trample on our authority,” Remulla said. 

More than 8,000 suspected drug addicts and dealers were killed during the drug war launched by then-President Duterte in 2016, according to government figures. He told police officers he would protect them from prosecution if they were charged as long as the deaths occurred while they were performing their mandate as law enforcement officers.

As president, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from an international treaty that created the ICC and he argued that he would not allow himself to be subjected to an international trial. 

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. Four police officers have been convicted of murder linked to drug-war killings.

Camille Elemia, Jeoffrey Maitem and Basilio Sepe in Manila contributed to this report.


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