ICC: Reason to Believe ‘Crimes against Humanity’ Committed in Philippine Drug War

Aie Balagtas See and Nonoy Espina
Manila and Bacolod, Philippines
ICC: Reason to Believe ‘Crimes against Humanity’ Committed in Philippine Drug War The body of Eric Estrada, a suspected drug dealer, lies in a street after he was shot dead in Dagupan City, Philippines, Oct. 6, 2016.
Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews

Preliminary findings show there is reason to believe that “crimes against humanity” occurred in the Philippines through extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said in a new report.

In Manila on Tuesday, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said the government would not cooperate with the ICC should the world court open a formal investigation into complaints brought against the Philippine leader.

A final decision on whether The Hague-based court is to launch an official probe will be known next year, the Office of ICC Prosecutor said in its Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2020, released on Monday.

“The Office is satisfied that information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder, torture and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as other inhumane Acts were committed on the territory of the Philippines between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, in connection to the [war on drugs] campaign launched throughout the country,” the report by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.

The office’s efforts this year to wrap up its preliminary examination into the allegations against the Philippine government were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic and “capacity constraints,” the report said.

“Nonetheless, the Office anticipates reaching a decision on whether to seek authorization to open an investigation into the situation in the Philippines in the first half of 2021,” it added.

Harry Roque, the spokesman for Duterte, said the government was confident that cases against the president would be thrown out. He dismissed the ICC’s prosecutor’s report as “speculative.”

“It is up to the prosecutor if she wants a second ruling, but you can’t just investigate if there is no cooperation,” from the Philippines, Roque said.

Roque, a former human rights lawyer, noted that the ICC had also failed to investigate the United States for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan because Washington did not want to cooperate.

“It is up to them to do what they want. We do not fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC,” he said.

In The Hague, Bensouda’s office said it would request a formal investigation if it saw that the Philippines could not or would not prosecute the cases properly.

Bensouda acknowledged the Philippine Department of Justice’s creation of a panel in June 2020 to look into allegations of extrajudicial killings related to the drug war. However, she said, her office would strictly monitor the developments regarding this.

Despite the uncertainty, human rights groups in the Philippines welcomed the ICC prosecutor’s preliminary findings, saying the “day of reckoning is coming nearer for Duterte’s reign of terror.”

“As we await the decision of the Office of the Prosecutor, we press our calls for justice for the Duterte administration’s brutal crimes against the Filipino people,” Karapatan, a Philippine rights advocacy group said as it called on international human rights bodies to keep probing the administration’s “murderous policies.”

Another group, iDEFEND, said the ICC process was “highly anticipated” for its potential ripple effect towards achieving the goal of prosecuting Duterte, who launched his merciless drug war after taking power as president in mid-2016.

Last year, Duterte pulled the Philippines out of an international treaty that created the ICC, believing that by doing so, he would no longer be investigated. But the ICC said killings that occurred from July 2016 – when he assumed power – until March 16, 2019 – the eve of the Philippine withdrawal from the international treaty – would still be covered by a potential investigation.

Duterte is facing two complaints at the ICC. One was filed by a former police officer and a self-styled assassin who accused Duterte of ordering the deaths of opponents and criminals when he was a mayor of the southern city of Davao.

The second was filed by relatives of several people killed during the counter-narcotics campaign.

The ICC prosecutor issued the report a month after the Philippine National Police released updated figures on the drug war. It said that 234,036 operations had been carried out since mid-2016, leading to the arrest of some “357,069 suspects, 7,987 deaths and the surrender of 1,290,768.”


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