ICC Top Prosecutor Pushes Full Probe into Philippine Drug-War Killings

Basilio Sepe and Jojo Riñoza
ICC Top Prosecutor Pushes Full Probe into Philippine Drug-War Killings Philippine relatives and friends of Mark Anthony Ruivivar, who was killed during an alleged shootout with police during an anti-drug campaign, participate in his burial ceremony in Manila, Dec. 15, 2019.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Updated at 7:53 a.m. ET on 2021-06-17

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor on Monday asked for a full investigation into the Philippine government’s war on drugs, as she concluded that “tens of thousands of civilians” may have been victims of extrajudicial killings.

In her request to the pre-trial chamber of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda asked for the greenlight to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte’s counter-narcotics campaign which, human rights groups say, has killed thousands since he took office in mid-2016.

As she had said in December when she introduced preliminary findings, Bensouda in her report issued on Monday said there was reason to believe that “crime against humanity” had occurred in the Philippines.

“Today, I announce that the preliminary investigation into the situation in the Republic of the Philippines has concluded and that I have requested judicial authorization to proceed with an investigation,” Bensouda said in a statement from the ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands. 

Her investigation covers the period when Duterte became president on June 30, 2016, and launched his drug war, until March 2019 when his government pulled out of an international treaty that created the ICC. 

“Following a thorough preliminary investigation process, the available information indicates that members of the Philippine National Police and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians during the time,” Bensouda said.

She said that she has notified the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber of her intention to prosecute. While the Philippines’ has withdrawn from the statute, she insisted that the court “retains jurisdiction over crimes that are alleged to have occurred” when it was a member. 

In her filing, Bensouda noted that there was reason to believe that vigilantes who carried out some of the killings were either themselves police officers or were “private citizens recruited, coordinated, and paid by police to kill civilians.”

The document said that the total number of civilians killed in connection with Duterte’s drug war “appears to be between 12,000 and 30,000,” from the period July 2016 to March 2019.

Philippine government figures list the death toll at nearly 8,000.

“These extrajudicial killings, perpetrated across the Philippines, appear to have been committed pursuant to an official state policy of the Philippine government,” the report said. 

“Police and other government officials planned, ordered, and sometimes directly perpetrated extrajudicial killings. They paid police officers and vigilantes bounties for extrajudicial killings,” it said, adding that officials “at the highest levels of government” encouraged it. 

Duterte and his spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment late Monday, but he has said that his war on drugs would continue until his last day in office in June 2022.

The ICC report calls for the investigation to include the city of Davao beginning in 2011, where Duterte served as mayor before being elected president.

“The same types of actors also allegedly committed strikingly similar crimes in the city and region of Davao (‘Davao’), starting in 1988 and continuing through 2016. Given the similarities between those killings and the nationwide WoD killings from July 2016 to March 2019, and the overlap of individuals involved during both periods, the prosecution requests that the 2011-2016 events in Davao be included within the requested investigation,” it said using an acronym for war on drugs.

Change of prosecutors

The request is one of Bensouda’s last actions as the court’s chief prosecutor because her term ends on Tuesday, according to the Agence France-Presse news service. She said she expected her successor, Karim Khan, to carry on with the investigation.

Duterte, whose six-year term ends next year, had repeatedly denied that he told the police to carry out the killings, but his public exhortations has been carried by state and private media. 

Aurora Parong, a spokeswoman for the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court which has been pushing for prosecution of Duterte, welcomed Bensouda’s statement while adding she hoped Khan would take the Philippines to “actual prosecution.” 

“This is a very welcome development,” Pijuan said. “It is a ray of hope for justice for families of the victims of killings in the war on drugs.” 

She said she hoped that the ICC probe would lead to charges against “those who pulled the trigger as well as those who encouraged mass executions.”

Parampreet Singh, associate international justice director of the Human Rights Watch, said that if Bensouda’s request is approved “it could bring victims and survivors closer to seeing those responsible for their suffering finally brought to justice.”

“Until now, President Rodrigo Duterte has callously worn his support for the government’s deadly war on drugs like a badge of honor,” Singh said. 

In December when Bensouda announced preliminary findings, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque dismissed that 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 at the time.

Meanwhile, Duterte last week told televangelist Apollo Quiboloy that the anti-drug campaign had led to improved peace and order in the country. 

“We have seen a lessening of the drugs actually in the Philippines,” he said at the time, noting that in his home city of Davao, drug dealing has been defeated.

“In other places they still operate, but in Manila they are almost paralyzed because we have better intelligence now and it’s working. Like I said in the past, I will end the problem of drugs in Manila or the Philippines.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version had an incorrect name for the spokeswoman for the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

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