CHR 'ready to assist' Marcos should it cooperate with ICC over drug war probe

James Relativo - Philstar.com
CHR 'ready to assist' Marcos should it cooperate with ICC over drug war probe
Photo of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after returning from Davos, Switzerland, January 2023
Released / Presidential Communications Office

MANILA, Philippines — Instead of hostility, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) invited the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to see the International Criminal Court's (ICC) decision to reopen the "drug war" probe as an opportunity to ensure accountability.

The ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber I recently authorized Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan to proceed with the suspended investigation into the crimes against humanity allegedly linked to the deadly anti-narcotics campaign of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

"In the interest of justice and accountability, CHR urges the Government of the Philippines to view the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber decision as an opportunity to fulfil President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s earlier commitment in ensuring a 'high-level of accountability' for human issues and violations during his term," said the commission Saturday.

"Let this development be a chance for the Philippines to demonstrate openness and transparency as part of the fraternity of nations that values human rights and the rule of law."

Official figures from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency pin the number of deaths in anti-drug operations to be 6,252. Rights groups, however, say that numbers go as high as 30,000 due to extrajudicial killings and involvement of vigilante groups.

Some high profile drug war casualties were later on proven to be innocent in court, with cases of teenagers Kian delos Santos, Carl Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman being among the most prominent after police officials planted evidences and tortured them. 

"As the independent national human rights institution of the Philippines, CHR extends its openness and willingness to assist the present administration in upholding the rights and dignity of all," the commission said.

"CHR acknowledges that there are present efforts being done by the current administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr in improving the human rights situation in the country. The ICC investigation is an opportune occasion for the present government to take the right track in upholding its human rights obligations, especially for those wronged and violated."

Why were investigations suspended before?

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber in September 2021 had first authorized the full investigation into the country's human rights situation. However, the Philippine government in November 2021 requested the ICC to have it suspended on the premise that the local justice system is already acting on it.

But for the international court, efforts, initiatives and proceedings from Manila did not "amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation." Because of this, the investigation was reopened.

When warranted, the ICC investigates and tries individuals charged with the "gravest crimes of concern to the international community," namely genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. It asserts that it is a "last resort" and does not seek to replace local courts but merely complements it.

While drug war and alleged EJK deaths reached thousands, the ICC noted that Manila's Department of Justice Panel have only reviewed 302 cases which was "very low."

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra earlier said that it would appeal the ICC's decision, while Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla condemned the move, saying that it's an affront to the country's sovereignty now that it is a non-party to the ICC.

While the effecticity of the Philippine's withdrawal from the Rome Statue — the treaty creating the ICC — took effect in March 2019, the international court says that it still has jurisdiction over violations that occured in the country while it was still a state party.

Duterte, through his former spokesperson, reiterated that he will never cooperate with the investigations and would only answer to local courts.

International community optimistic

Various groups welcomed this decision from the ICC, saying that it mirrors the earlier findings of Investigate PH Commission of Inquiry which found that domestic measures were effectively not fuctioning.

"We are extremely appreciative of the decision of the ICC," said Peter Murphy, chairperson of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP).

"It offers a mechanism for victims to continue their pursuit of justice against the Duterte regime’s brutal war on drugs, on dissent and on the Moro and all Indigenous Peoples."

ICHRP maintains that justice can still be served despite the Marcos administration's decision to keep the Philippines outside ICC and "cover up" the crimes committed by the police and military in the name of the former president.

Remulla in November assured the UN Human Rights Council that around 17,000 cops have already been investigated by an inter-agency task force, with at least 25 charged with murder.

"ICHRP has full confidence in the impartiality of the ICC. We urge the ICC to vigorously pursue the full investigation of the previous Duterte administration for these crimes against humanity so that, finally, justice may be served and impunity ended," Murphy said.

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