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Lawyers' group asks ICC to continue probe into Philippines 'drug war'

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Lawyers' group asks ICC to continue probe into Philippines 'drug war'
This undated photo shows people lighting candles to protest killings under the Duterte administration's 'war on drugs.'
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, File

MANILA, Philippines — The Free Legal Assistance Group, among the lawyers’ groups that assist victims of the “war on drugs” in court, urged the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor to lift its suspension on the investigation into the Philippines.

FLAG, through its chairman Chel Diokno, wrote to the ICC Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan and asked his office to proceed with the investigation.

“FLAG understands that your decision to suspend the investigation is largely in response to the deferral letter dated 10 November 2021 where the Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands cited, among others, the Department of Justice ‘thorough investigations’ into 52 killings which occurred between 2016 and 2020,” they said.

The ICC last weekend said it would suspend investigative activities for the time being "while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request" filed by Manila.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s government largely relies on the principle of complementarity in its defense in the ICC investigation. In the Philippine government’s letter to the ICC, they noted that the country has the “first responsibility and right to prosecute international crimes.”

But the lawyers’ group pointed out that the cited investigation merely relied on documents provided by the Philippine National Police and only covered a small fraction of killings under the bloody “war on drugs” by the Duterte administration.

Less than 1% of total killings in ICC review period

“The DOJ ‘investigation’ adverted to in the Philippines’ deferral letter covers only a fraction of the killings or attempted killings which occurred within the scope of the ICC investigation,” FLAG said.

They also noted that only 36 cases reviewed by the DOJ occurred between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019, and this number only accounts for 0.12% to 0.3% of the 12,000 to 30,000 persons killed during the said period, which is covered by the ICC investigation.

The DOJ review also did not cover killings in Davao between Nov. 1, 2011 and June 30, 2016, which the ICC said it will look into.

While the DOJ also looked into 300 cases for its initial report, the lawyers’ group stressed that parameters, scope and results of the assessment have been withheld from the public.

In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in February, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said police failed to follow protocols in many anti-drug operations. This was contained in a report sent to Duterte.

READ: Case build-up starts on possible 'war on drugs' abuses from 2016

Reliance on police documents

The lawyers’ group also asserted that it is misleading to label the DOJ actions as an ‘investigation’” as the department, in its review of 52 operations that resulted in deaths, only covered files as provided by the Philippine National Police’s Internal Affairs Service.

FLAG pointed out that based on the matrix made public by the DOJ, it is apparent that the department did not confirm the documents, nor it did identify others who may be involved in the killings, including officials in the chain of command.

DOJ also did not comment on the “inconsequential penalties” meted out on police involved in the deadly operations.

The matrix showed that in most of the cases, police were only suspended over their involvement in operations where suspects were killed. Only four resulted in dismissal from service.

“The imposition of IAS/PNP penalties—and the DOJ silence on the penalties imposed by IAS/PNP—reveals how the Philippine government views the killings,” they said.

“The DOJ ‘investigation’ did not include any findings or conclusions, but mere ‘observations,’ largely on the lack—or paucity—of documents provided by the IAS/PNP. Witnesses or survivors were not interviewed; family members did not participate in the DOJ ‘investigation,’” FLAG also said.

The lawyers’ group also asserted that Philippine law and jurisprudence hold that in cases where a law enforcer kills a person in “self-defense,” the burden of proof is upon the state officers. “Yet, the DOJ ‘investigation’ instead placed the burden upon the victims and/or their heirs,” FLAG told the ICC.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE DRUG WAR FREE LEGAL ASSISTANCE GROUP INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT WAR ON DRUGS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: November 22, 2021 - 11:02am

President Rodrigo Duterte says the controversial drug war will continue until the last day of his term, with or without a communication filed at the International Criminal Court.

The ICC recently announced that it has begun processing the accusations against Duterte and his campaign against illegal drugs, which has led to the killing of thousands of people since he assumed power in June 2016. — Photo of the ICC building by AP/Peter Dejong

November 22, 2021 - 11:02am

Free Legal Assistance Group urges the International Criminal Court to continue its investigation on the so-called war on drugs in the Philippines.

The lawyers’ group points out that the cited investigation merely relied on documents provided by the Philippine National Police and only covered a small fraction of killings under the bloody “war on drugs” by the Duterte administration.

“The DOJ ‘investigation’ adverted to in the Philippines’ deferral letter covers only a fraction of the killings or attempted killings which occurred within the scope of the ICC investigation,” the group says in a letter addressed to ICC Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan.

September 16, 2021 - 12:07pm

President Rodrigo Duterte will not cooperate with the International Criminal Court's probe into the drug war, his lawyer says Thursday, insisting the tribunal does not have jurisdiction in the country.

Duterte "will not cooperate since first of all, the Philippines has left the Rome statute, so the ICC no longer has jurisdiction over the country," chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo tells local radio DZBB.

"The government will not let in any ICC member to collect information and evidence here in the Philippines, they will be barred entry." — AFP

January 14, 2020 - 2:32pm

Lawyer Romel Bagares, lead counsel for Philippine Coalition for International Criminal Court, says Jude Sabio’s communication against President Rodrigo Duterte at the International Criminal Court was "largely irrelevant."

"To begin with, his submission was largely irrelevant as it dealt with matters before Mr Duterte became president," Bagares says. 

"Also the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) itself said in its Dec 5 report said it consulted open sources in its preliminary examination so it is not limited to him. But definitely it will buoy up the confidence of all the President’s men," he adds. 

January 14, 2020 - 2:14pm

Lawyer Jude Sabio says he will withdraw his communication about extrajudicial killings filed before the International Criminal Court.

In a release, Sabio says "he did not approve what Trillanes and other LP personalities have resorted to aimed at besmirching the honor of the President."

The lawyer, who was assisted by Larry Gadon in a Quezon City court, has signed and sworn an affidavit and statement about his withdrawal.  

March 31, 2019 - 11:54am
Karapatan challenges the Duterte administration not to block efforts by the International Criminal Court and United Nations Independent Experts to probe human rights violations it reported if indeed human rights organizations are "merely spouting lies to defame the government."
 
"It is clear to us why there are very persistent efforts to undermine our work and discredit our organization. We are being singled out, harassed, and our work criminalized because of our advocacy to continuously expose human rights violations and initiate efforts and campaigns to hold the Philippine government accountable as the primary duty-bearer of human rights promotion and defense," Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay says in a statement.
 
Karapatan made the statement after a delegation called the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict made rounds in diplomatic missions in Europe. It said the delegation "maliciously" red-tagged several human rights organizations.
 
The European Union on Saturday said it would probe allegations that its aid were being funneled to Philippine communist guerrillas after the Philippine government asked for an investigation.
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