Palace: ICC prosecutor decided based on hearsay; 'drug war' deaths were collateral damage
File photo shows people lighting candles to protest drug war killings.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, File

Palace: ICC prosecutor decided based on hearsay; 'drug war' deaths were collateral damage

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - June 16, 2021 - 12:18pm

MANILA, Philippines — The thousands of deaths that have raised rights concerns over the Duterte administration's flagship "war on drugs" are collateral damage, the Palace said Wednesday, adding that a preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor is based only on hearsay.

This comes after Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the international court whose term ended Tuesday, announced she has sought permission for a full-blown investigation into killings committed during the Duterte administration's "drug war". If the court agrees, that investigation will fall to Bensouda's successor, UK lawyer Karim Khan.

"They were collateral damage, so to speak, arising from a valid police operation," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in an interview on the ABS-CBN News Channel.

"We're confident it will not prosper beyond this stage, because, in the first place, you need the cooperation of the state for a case buildup. But right now, what they have is hearsay information." 

Human rights groups have forwarded affidavits and reports to the ICC for the preliminary examination, a process to determine if a fuller investigation is warranted.

Malacañang on Wednesday said the Philippine government will not cooperate with the investigation because it is a sovereign nation with a functioning court system. 

READ: ICC prosecutor seeks Philippines drug war probe

Roque went on to claim that the first probe of the ICC was based almost solely on media reports, saying: "As a lawyer, we know that media sources are considered hearsay. We need to present people who have actual personal knowledge of events to prove particularly criminal liability, which is proof beyond reasonable doubt."

But the preliminary investigation also pored over witness affidavits sent to the ICC prosecutor's office by the National Union of People's Lawyers and other groups. 

Asked about this, Roque said those who sent affidavits should have coursed them through local authorities instead. Rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Karapatan said scrutiny by the ICC and other international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council are necessary because domestic processes to seek accountability over alleged extrajudicial killings have not worked. 

"In the same way that they can submit those affidavits to the ICC, they should also send them to our domestic fiscals. The problem is our Filipino fiscals are willing and able to investigate. The Department of Justice is in the process of investigating these cases right now," he said. 

The DOJ led a review of "drug war" cases and found that police officers violated protocols in many of the cases where "drug personalities" were supposedly killed in shootouts. In many cases, police did not bother to verify whether a shootout really happened, the department said in February. 

Authorities acknowledge the deaths of 6,000 "drug personalities" in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 and December 31, 2020, according to the latest data release by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

The department has also been given access to records on 53 cases that the Philippine National Police's Internal Affairs Service reviewed. The Commission on Human Rights, which was left out of the DOJ-led review last year, said it hopes to gain access to the records on the 53 cases.

"If that is not the willingness on the part of the Philippines to investigate, I don’t know what is," Roque said. 

READ: CHR says Duterte admin's rights violations 'incomparable' to previous terms

Palace: Bensouda's conclusions are 'fantastic'

Roque also hit the Bensouda for questioning the "nanlaban" narrative, or the police explanation that drug suspects violently resisted arrest and forced cops to defend themselves.

He called the the ICC prosecutor's report a "fantastic" one as he claimed it did not point to any forensic evidence. 

"To me, that's really more of fiction, or perhaps conclusions based on hearsay information," Roque said.

"Good luck [to them.] Because on the basis of the preliminary examination's report, they will need primary evidence. All courts will require primary documents, not the evidence relied on by Bensouda," Roque said. 

"We're just asserting that in this instance, there's no jurisdiction because we never surrendered the obligation to investigate." 

READ: Duterte administration 'will never cooperate' with any ICC probe, Palace says

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