Marcos rejects Duterte-style drug war but shields him from ICC probe

Luis Liwanag and Jeoffrey Maitem
Marcos rejects Duterte-style drug war but shields him from ICC probe Activists protest in Manila during the inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., June 30, 2022. Marcos said he would protect his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte from any international probe over thousands of deaths under his war on drugs.
[Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. indicated in a television interview that he would shun his predecessor’s hardcore approach to fighting drugs, but said he still intended to shield former leader Rodrigo Duterte from international prosecution over alleged extrajudicial killings.

Marcos also defended his late namesake father’s decision to impose martial law in 1972, saying Ferdinand E. Marcos believed this was necessary back then to fight twin threats from a communist insurgency and an armed separatist movement in the south.

In the interview that aired on the ALLTV channel on Tuesday – his first sit-down interview since taking office June 30 – Marcos Jr. said his administration’s anti-drugs campaign would not be the same as Duterte’s and would focus on prevention and rehabilitation.

“The war on drugs will continue but we have to do it in a different way,” Marcos said during the interview, portions of which were released to the media Wednesday.

“We are looking more for … prevention. “Let us teach the children: ‘Do not go there. You won’t achieve anything. Most of those who went there were either jailed or are now dead. So why would you want that?’”

In his six years in power, Duterte drew scrutiny from local and foreign groups for his administration’s crackdown on narcotics that killed over 8,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

However, some groups have said the number of those killed could be three times higher. The alleged extrajudicial killings were often carried out by masked assassins, and the targets often were small-time drug pushers and dealers in poor communities.

In 2019, Duterte unilaterally withdrew the Philippines from the International Criminal Court following its initial probe into his administration’s drug-related killings.

In the interview, Marcos reiterated his stance not to rejoin the ICC, saying the Philippines should investigate the alleged crimes on its own. Duterte is the father of Marcos’ running mate, Sara Duterte who is now the vice president.

“I don’t see any reason why we should [rejoin the ICC],” he said.

“The ICC is, very simply, supposed to take actions when a country no longer has a functioning judiciary,  no longer has some of the organs of the state, the police. And that condition does not exist in the Philippines so I do not see what role the ICC is going to play here in the Philippines.”

In June, top ICC prosecutor Karim Khan filed a motion with the court’s pre-trial chamber to resume its probe of Duterte’s war on illegal narcotics from 2011 to 2019. The period encompassed Duterte’s first three years as president and the five years before, when he served as vice mayor and mayor of Davao City, his hometown in the southern Philippines.

Last week, the Philippine Office of the Solicitor General officially rejected Khan’s request to reopen the investigation.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency agents and police secure a part of a street as they search a house looking for a drug dealer during a raid in Maharlika Village, Taguig, south of Manila, Feb. 28, 2018. [Noel Celis/AFP]

Meanwhile, human rights advocacy groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), criticized Marcos’ anti-drugs plan.

Marcos should first order a stop to Duterte’s drug war, said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

“President Marcos’ promise to tackle the Philippines’ illegal drugs problem in a ‘different way’ glosses over the urgent need to first issue a clear public order ending the ‘drug war’ in toto,” Robertson said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Using a drug rehabilitation approach means little when police and mystery gunmen are still executing suspected drug users and dealers. Law enforcers should receive clear orders to stop the ‘drug war’ enforcement once and for all.”

Without a clear directive, Robertson said, Marcos was only “aiming to look good in the eyes of the international community” ahead of attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month.

Marcos is scheduled to speak at the General Assembly in New York on Sept. 20, according to the Philippine foreign office.

On Tuesday, the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it felt that the victims of the Philippine drug war still faced challenges in seeking justice.

In a report, the office called for the Marcos government to “adopt a transformative approach that looks to rights-based solution” in addressing various issues, including the drug war. It also advised the government to “end divisive rhetoric” that puts human rights advocates at risk.

“The Government took some initiatives to advance accountability for human rights violations and abuses…,” the report said.

“However, access to justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses remained very limited. Institutional and structural shortcomings in law enforcement and the judiciary remained, despite efforts to address some cases.”

The U.N. report also noted limited oversight of rights investigations, lack of cooperation among investigating agencies, a woeful forensic capacity and a slow justice system. In addition, it said that victims and witnesses faced inadequate support and protection from reprisals.

The U.N. office suggested that the justice department “accelerate its review of all killings related to the government’s anti-drug operations.”

‘War was really raging already at the time’

Marcos also spoke about his late father, the dictator who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, including 14 years of martial law under which activists have documented thousands of cases of deaths and enforced disappearances.

The president said he was not hurt by media references to him as being a dictator’s son.

“No. It would hurt me if they were right, but they are wrong,” he said.

Marcos said his father always arrived at decisions through consultation.

“How many times have I been here in this room where he was in consultation with different groups? A dictator does not consult. A dictator just says, ‘this is what you do whether you like it or not.’”

“It was necessary to – in my father’s view at the time – to declare martial law because a war was really raging already at the time,” he added, referring both to a communist insurgency and the Muslim Moro rebellion in the southern Mindanao region.

Still, he acknowledged without elaborating that abuses happened during his father's regime, adding that he and his family have their own evidence, which he did not release.

Some 10,000 victims of torture under his father’s regime, meanwhile, have won a class action suit against the Marcos estate.

Jeoffrey Maitem in Davao City, southern Philippines, contributed to this report.


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