Philippines highlights loopholes in ICC pre-trial of drug war

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
Philippines highlights loopholes in ICC pre-trial of drug war
In an interview over dzMM yesterday, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said the government has changed its “legal strategy” by attacking what he called legal errors committed by the pretrial chamber.”
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MANILA, Philippines — After failing to stop the International Criminal Court (ICC) from proceeding with its probe on the bloody war on drugs of the previous Duterte administration, the government is now highlighting the “legal errors” of the court’s pre-trial chamber as part of its appeals strategy.

In an interview over dzMM yesterday, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said the government has changed its “legal strategy” by attacking what he called legal errors committed by the pretrial chamber.”

“We’ve grown tired of providing information to the ICC pretrial chamber regarding our domestic investigation,” Guevarra said in Filipino, referring to investigations and cases filed in courts against rogue police officers linked to drug war killings.

“It seems that whatever evidence we give to them, they will not be convinced that we are willing and able to conduct a genuine investigation into the war on drugs,” he added.

Aside from pushing for suspension of ICC investigation in the light of the Philippines withdrawal from the Rome statute in 2019, Guevarra said the chamber also erred in its assessment of the admissibility of the Philippine situation.

The pretrial chamber applied the standards for resolving the admissibility issue under Article 19 of the Rome statute, which applies to “concrete case” involving specific person indicted or prosecuted for a crime, Guevarra said.

What the chamber should have applied is Article 18, which only tackles the “preliminary admissibility challenge” and looks at the “general situation” of the country, not “specific or concrete case,” he added.

“So the standard or threshold to determine admissibility under Article 18, should be lower, because you are looking at the general situation, not the specific or concrete case of a person already being prosecuted. So that’s another major ground we raised,” Guevarra said.

The solicitor general maintained that the Philippine government investigated rogue police officers when he was justice secretary of former president Rodrigo Duterte, subject of the crimes against humanity case before the ICC.

While the former chief executive in various public speeches ordered police officers to carry out his drug war and kill drug suspects, the president “balanced” this by saying they should kill only suspects who fight back, Guevarra said.

“If you evaluate it in its totality, you can see that the President tempered what he  said, which at first glance appeared bothersome,” Guevarra said in Filipino. “Let’s look at it from the totality of everything that he said as President in connection with the war on drugs.”

Guevarra said he expects the pretrial chamber to resolve their appeal by August this year.

“Regardless of the outcome, one thing is sure: the Philippine government will continue with its own domestic investigations,” he added.

The pretrial chamber authorized the resumption of the probe after finding the domestic investigations into the killings unsatisfactory.

Of the 52 cases of extrajudicial killings investigated by Philippine authorities, 12 have been filed in courts or prosecutors, 22 are pending investigation, and 18 have been “closed due to lack of interest on the part of complainants,” Guevarra said.

Guevarra denied that the Office of the Solicitor General under his watch is protecting the former president from prosecution.

“We strongly take the position that we are doing what we should be doing, and that the ICC should not interfere. It’s not to protect any specific person,” he said. “We are the tribune of the people. From my own point of view, it doesn’t matter who will be held accountable in the end.”

President Marcos has taken the same position that the ICC probe on his predecessor threatens the country’s sovereignty. His running mate and now Vice President Sara Duterte is a daughter of the former president.

Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council that leaders and officials of numerous countries “vilify and target” human rights defenders instead of recognizing their crucial work in helping build fairer societies.

She stressed that 25 years after countries adopted a global declaration to promote and protect the work of human rights defenders, their contributions were still brazenly ignored. – Pia Lee-Brago


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