ICC should resume probe of drug war — political experts

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court (ICC) should resume its investigation of the Philippine government’s deadly drug war, political experts said at the weekend.

“Should the ICC continue to delay the proceedings, it will further abet the climate of impunity reigning in the Philippines, which in itself is an unfolding crime against humanity,” human rights lawyer Fides M. Lim said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Murder and extermination by state forces with the general intent to attack civilian populations are among the crimes against humanity,” she added.

Last week, Philippine Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra asked the international tribunal to drop a plea by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor to continue the probe, saying it does not have the authority to do so.

He said the alleged murders of drug suspects in police raids are not crimes against humanity because these are not “attacks against the civilian population.“

Arjan P. Aguirre, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said the Philippine plea to scrap the probe might be an attempt to evade accountability for crimes committed during the drug war of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“It is a convenient way to use the perfunctory function to evade a more serious, objective, systematic, comprehensive, etc. determination of guilt,  neglect and accountability,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He added that the government’s probe of erring cops was just an excuse to show that its justice system is working.

“Our objection is on the ground that we have our own accountability mechanisms in place and these are all functioning as they should,” Mr. Guevarra, who was Mr. Duterte’s Justice secretary, said in a Viber message.

The Hague-based tribunal gave the Philippines until Sept. 8 to comment on the request to resume its probe of Mr. Duterte’s drug war that had killed thousands of drug suspects.

In June, ICC Prosecutor Karim Ahmad A. Khan asked the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to reopen the probe since the Philippines had allegedly failed to show it had investigated crimes related to the campaign. 

He said the chamber should issue an order on an “expedited basis.” It should “receive any further observations it considers appropriate from victims and the government of the Philippines,” he added.

The ICC, which tries people charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, suspended its probe of Mr. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs last year upon the Philippine government’s request.

Mr. Duterte canceled Philippine membership in the international tribunal in 2018.

The solicitor general said drug war complaints were being investigated and prosecuted.

The government also submitted to the international court a progress report on the government’s investigations of the drug war and the vigilante-style killings in Davao City, when Mr. Duterte was still its vice mayor and mayor.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin M. Remulla earlier said the government would not submit anything to the ICC as compliance but as a “matter of comity,” noting that the Philippines is no longer an ICC member.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has said the Philippines would not rejoin the ICC. “This ICC is a very different kind of court, which is why we are carefully studying first the procedure so that our actions won’t be misinterpreted,” he said on Aug. 1.

Political analysts have said the president’s move was meant to protect his predecessor from prosecution for his anti-illegal drug campaign.

Experts also said the ICC would probably prosecute the former president and his agents as soon as it resumes its investigation of the drug war.

Mr. Remulla earlier said many of the cases involving erring cops did not progress for lack of witnesses.

Only 21% or 62,000 of 291,000 drug cases filed have led to convictions, Interior Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos said in July, citing police data from 2016 to 2022.

The Justice department brought five of the 52 cases involving 150 police officers to court since it started its own probe last year.

Data from the Philippine government released in June 2021 showed that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

The Philippine Human Rights Commission said the Duterte government had encouraged a culture of impunity by hindering independent inquiries and by failing to prosecute erring cops involved in the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign.