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Ex-ICC judge: Probers can get evidence on killings even if barred from Philippines

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Ex-ICC judge: Probers can get evidence on killings even if barred from Philippines
The seat of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands is seen in this photo release by the International Commission of Jurists, a non-governmental organization advocating for human rights.
ICJ / Released

MANILA, Philippines — The International Criminal Court can employ alternative ways to get evidence on crimes against humanity allegations against President Rodrigo Duterte and his men in its investigation into the government's "drug war," a retired judge of the ICC said.

In an interview with ANC’s "Headstart" on Monday, former ICC Judge Raul Pangalangan said the proceedings will now move to determine whether charges may be filed against officials named as respondents in the case.

The pre-trial chamber will now look into evidence against specific persons tagged in the case. He said that these can be in the form of "statements, of course, by individuals and, in fact, in a very recent case by the court, even...statements from social media." 

The retired judge stressed that the consideration of social media as evidence "was quite a step," especially that courts are very traditional institutions.

The ICC may also fly witnesses to The Hague, but online mechanisms can be used too if the investigator cannot physically come to the country, Pangalangan said.

"Virtual access [of] online mechanisms to receive evidence is allowed by the court, we have done that. We have done video link testimony from the home countries of the witnesses where it was safer for them to do it or when they are otherwise unavailable," he said.

The Duterte administration has been adamant that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Philippines and vowed it will not cooperate with the investigation. Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo has told radio dzBB that the government will not let anyone from the ICC enter the country and "collect information and evidence here in the Philippines"

But Pangalangan, in a separate interview with CNN Philippines’ "The Source", said the investigation can move forward even without the cooperation of the State.

"The only issue is whether there is enough evidence to support indictment. If that evidence is secured locally by witnesses who stepped forward, evidence will be available to support an indictment," he added.

Lawyers: 'Beginning' to the end of the 'drug war'

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) last week formally authorized an investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly committed under Duterte's bloody “drug war.” The probe will also cover alleged killings in Davao City from 2011 to 2016, when Duterte was mayor of the southern Philippine city.

RELATED: Here's why the 'Davao Death Squad' was included in the ICC 'drug war' probe

Center for International Law hailed the development as the “beginning” to the end of Duterte’s "drug war."

"The PTC decision may be a momentous step, but it is likewise an early step in the long path of justice. Much has been achieved, yet much remains to be done," the lawyers’ group said.

CenterLaw again urged the Philippne government to cooperate with the ICC following Article 2 Paragraph 2 of the Rome Statue, which states the withdrawal of a state shall not affect cooperation with the court in criminal investigations and proceedings "in relation to which the withdrawing State had the duty to cooperate and which were commenced prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective."

The group also reminded the Duterte administration "that impediment, intimidation or interference with the ICC’s investigation may be penalized as an Offense Against the Administration of Justice."

Even before the PTC approved the request of the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor for a full investigation, witnesses as well as kin of "drug war" victims have been submitting their testimonies to the tribunal.

Lawyer Kristina Conti, one of the counsels of victims, said in June that they have been sending affidavits and testimonies to the Office of the Prosecutor when they file supplemental communications.

They sent a fourth supplemental communication a day before the OTP announced it was seeking approval from the Pre-Trial Chamber to launch an investigation into the allegations against Duterte and his men.

RELATED: ICC: Victims 'overwhelmingly support' investigation into Philippine 'drug war'

The OTP, in what has been called former Prosecutor Fatou Bensounda’s valedictory, noted that the office is "[a]ware of the complex operational challenges" that they will face if their request for the probe is approved.

“[W]e have also been taking a number of measures to collect and preserve evidence, in anticipation of a possible investigation,” she added.

In June, British lawyer Karim Khan was sworn in as the new prosecutor of the ICC.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

DRUG WAR

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

RODRIGO DUTERTE

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