“As a sovereign state, the Philippines’ has the inherent responsibility to protect its current and future generations by effectively addressing threats of the safety and well-being of its citizens such as proliferation of illegal drugs. Because the war against drugs is a lawful, legitimate police operation, it cannot be characterized as an attack against civilian populations because they are civilians,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque siad. Philstar.com/File Photo

International Court sets review of Duterte’s drug war
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 9, 2018 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — The International Criminal Court (ICC) is set to start a “preliminary examination” of killings tied to the Duterte administration’s war on drugs – a move welcomed by Malacañang, which said the President’s detractors would fail.

The action stemmed from communication filed last year by Jude Sabio, lawyer of Edgar Matobato, who claims to be a former member of a death squad allegedly organized by Duterte in Davao City where he was mayor for 23 years.

Sabio is asking the ICC to probe Duterte and other officials and indict them for crimes against humanity for what he described as the “mass murder” of drug suspects.

He claimed that the death squad in Davao City killed about 1,400 people while the current anti-drug war has left about 7,000 persons dead.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque downplayed the ICC’s move, which he himself disclosed yesterday, saying the claim that Duterte had committed crimes against humanity lacked merit.

“No one should claim victory because only in the stage of preliminary examination,” Roque said.

“As a sovereign state, the Philippines’ has the inherent responsibility to protect its current and future generations by effectively addressing threats of the safety and well-being of its citizens such as proliferation of illegal drugs. Because the war against drugs is a lawful, legitimate police operation, it cannot be characterized as an attack against civilian populations because they are civilians,” he added.

Roque, a former professor of international law, explained that preliminary examination is different from preliminary investigation. A preliminary examination seeks to determine if there is reasonable basis to proceed to a preliminary investigation.

More than 19,000 “homicide” cases have been recorded by police since Duterte began his war on drugs in 2016. Only about 2,000 of the cases were drug-related, according to officials.

The Philippine National Police has conducted more than 64,000 anti-drug operations, which resulted in the arrest of more than 102,000 drug personalities.

Roque said Duterte welcomed the preliminary examination because he is “sick and tired” of being accused of committing crimes against humanity. He claimed the ICC has no jurisdiction over the drug war because Philippine courts are still functioning.

“This is an opportunity for him to prove that this is not subject to the court’s jurisdiction because of both complementarity that domestic courts and the fact that we have a domestic international humanitarian law statute in our jurisdiction, are reasons enough for the Court not to exercise jurisdiction,” Roque said.

“After a preliminary investigation, the prosecutor would have to go to the pre-trial chamber of the Court for confirmation of charges before the charges can even be filed in the court,” the spokesman said.

Roque claimed the allegations against Duterte are part of a “concerted public relations initiative” by “domestic enemies of the state.”

“Obviously this is intended to embarrass the President but the President is a lawyer, he knows what the procedures are, they will fail. The President has said that if need be he will argue his case personally before the International Criminal Court,” he said.

“He said he wants to be in Court and put the prosecutor on the stand. To ask who prodded you to proceed to preliminary examination, because it is the suspicion of the President that it is of course the domestic enemies of the state behind this,” Roque pointed out.

He maintained that Sabio, Matobato and opposition lawmakers Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano are just wasting the resources of the ICC as their efforts are doomed to fail. “In our case, they will not go beyond preliminary examination,” he said.

In June 2017, Trillanes and Alejano filed a supplemental complaint before the ICC, where they affirmed and provided updates to the complaint filed by Sabio.

“I am confident that, based on my communication, as well as that of Sen. Trillanes’ and Rep. Alejano’s, we will hurdle this first big step, and hopefully a warrant of arrest will be issued soon by the ICC against Duterte and his cohorts,” Sabio said in a statement.

“His (Duterte) system of death squad killings, which started through the Davao Death Squad and was continued on a national scale through the war on drugs, will now be investigated by the ICC and justice will be done,” he added.

Not above the law

Reacting to the development, Trillanes said the preliminary examination being readied by the ICC is a “first step for the families’ quest for justice” for their slain loved ones. The ICC move “should jolt Duterte into realizing that he is not above the law,” he added.

Alejano said he hopes the ICC examination “will be allowed to carry on unhindered and with full cooperation from concerned authorities, organizations and personalities.”

He stressed that President Duterte and those who perpetuate and defend his alleged policy of killing should be held accountable.

“This initial step of the ICC is also the first step towards bringing justice to the families and all the victims of the war on drugs. The ICC stepping in is a ray of hope amid the compromised rule of law under this administration,” he said.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin said even “enablers” of extrajudicial killings including Roque should be made to account for the anti-drug deaths.

He said a possible case against Duterte “will be damning and damaging to his administration in the eyes of our people and the international community.”

“I am hopeful that people will now realize the truth and demand accountability from him with all constitutional options available,” he added.

Leftist party-list group Kabataan said the ICC probe “is a challenge for both domestic and other international organizations to actively participate and to lend their findings for a thorough and objective investigation.”

“This is, however, reflective of the dismal state of our justice system. 13,000 deaths and still counting, yet the Duterte administration remains determined in pursuing the drug war – to the point of re-launching it three times with revised but still problematic guidelines,” it said.

“We hope that the ICC will welcome the investigation not only of drug-related killings but also other blatant state-sponsored human rights violations that have assisted and tolerated the prevailing culture of impunity,” the group said.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), for its part, urged the Duterte administration to cooperate with the ICC.

“The government, as a party to the Rome Statute, is duty bound to fully cooperate with the ICC,” CHR chairman Chito Gascon said, referring to the 1998 treaty that established the ICC. He admitted they have not received yet official communication from the ICC.

“In particular, we hope the authorities of our police and justice department will provide all relevant information for the successful conduct of its preliminary examination,” he added. Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy, Janvic Mateo

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