Remulla: ICC to get info on 'drug war' cases as a courtesy, not compliance

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Remulla: ICC to get info on 'drug war' cases as a courtesy, not compliance
Secretary of Justice Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla speaks in front of of DOJ employees during his first flag ceremony as justice secretary on July 4, 2022.
Philstar.com / EC Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government will respond to a request from the International Criminal Court for the government to "provide observations" on the ICC prosecutor's request to investigate out of courtesy and not compliance, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Wednesday.

Instead, the Philippines will send information detailing what the government has been doing to investigate alleged abuses in the "war on drugs".

At the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, Remulla said the Department of Justice has given Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra information on the case records that the department is reviewing.

"It’s just that — It’s probably up to him, it has to be worded in such a way that is not in compliance. We are not complying in any demand," the justice secretary said.

"We are doing this as a matter of comity to inform them that we are doing something on the problems we are supposed to solve on our own," he continued.

The ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber gave the Philippines until September 8 to submit its observations on the continuing investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity committed under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s "war on drugs."

But Remulla stressed that the Philippines is no longer a member of the ICC. The country withdrew from the court in March 2019 after scrapping ratification of the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

Remulla said the ICC cannot compel the Philippines to allow investigators into the country.

"We are currently investigating these crimes,” he said.

Rule of law in the country

As part of the ICC’s procedures, the Philippine government filed a deferral request in November 2021 but ICC Prosecutor Kharim Khan said in June this year that this is "not warranted and that the investigation should resume as quickly as possible."

Khan noted that the Philippine government highlighted the DOJ Panel in its efforts to investigate the killings — an ambitious commitment that then Justice Secretary Guevarra made before the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2020. Human rights groups in the Philippines questioned the timing and the motivation of the DOJ review, which has yielded few cases filed in court.

The ICC prosecutor said that the review was more of an administrative "desk review."

He also pointed out that the information table sent to the ICC merely contained observations and remarks on how victims died and noted lapses in procedure, with no concrete investigative steps taken,

The ICC prosecutor added that even if the National Bureau of Investigaiton was taking concrete investigative steps on all cases referred them, the efforts "would still fall far short of seeking accountability for the thousands of killings attributable to police (and other groups) in the ['war on drugs'] context."

"Such a limited fraction of cases would not adequately address the quantity, scope, and gravity of potential cases within the parameters of the Court’s investigation into the situation. On that basis also, the resumption of the Court’s investigation should be authorized," he added.

Khan noted that there was no indication of investigation of any pattern of criminality or systematicity, "including by those who would appear to be the most responsible for conceiving or implementing a policy."

Experts have long pointed out that though the Philippines withdrew its ratification of the Rome Statute in 2018 — and effectively left the ICC in 2019 — the court retains jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed while the Philippines was still a member.

CenterLaw, in a fact sheet, pointed out that even Philippine jurisprudence has acknowledged the non-retroactive effect of the country leaving the ICC in the case of  Pangilinan v. Cayetano, which reads: "Withdrawal from the Rome Statute does not affect the liabilities of individuals charged before the [ICC] for acts committed up to this date."

READ: Fact check: Philippines has obligations despite leaving ICC in 2019

Continuing investigations

Remulla however asserted that the Philippine judicial system is working, and the ICC should only go into countries where the justice system has failed.

"We have an existing justice system that is characterized by our rule of law. So, if the decision is to pull out from the ICC, so be it. We will just determine the responsibility of people through our own means," he said.

He pointed out that some cases go cold because of lack of eyewitnesses and testimonies. Remulla then urged witnesses to alleged killings to come forward so investigations can continue.

He said witnesses would receive government protection.

"We are not stopping. We are not stopping investigating crimes that happened in the past and this is not a closed case, this is considered an active case," he added in Filipino.

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