Probe into Duterte 'drug war' resumes as ICC rejects Philippines' bid to block it

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:21 p.m.) — The International Criminal Court can resume its investigation into possible crimes against humanity allegedly committed during former President Rodrigo Duterte administration’s bloody “war on drugs”, marking a crucial step toward justice for the victims and their families.

The judges in the ICC appeals chamber rejected Tuesday the appeal of the Philippine government against the Pre-Trial Chamber’s authorization to resume the investigation into the drug killings when Duterte was president and, earlier, Davao City mayor.

“It is rejected by the appeals chamber by majority and the impugned decision is therefore confirmed,” Presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said. Three out of five ICC judges rejected the appeal. 

According to Brichambaut, the decision challenged by the Philippine government is not a decision on jurisdiction, and the issue of the effect of the country’s withdrawal on the court’s jurisdiction was “neither properly raised nor adequately ventilated” before the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber. 

Majority of the ICC judges also found that the Philippines has failed to demonstrate the errors of the pre-trial chamber. 

In January, the court authorized the inquiry, noting the government’s initiative to reexamine drug war killings did “not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps.”

Step forward 

Families of drug war victims and human rights groups welcomed the latest move of The Hague-based tribunal.

Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the ruling of the ICC judges “marks the next step toward justice for victims of ‘drug war’ killings and their families.”

The Marcos administration should back up its stated commitment to human rights and the fight against impunity by following through on its international legal obligation to cooperate with the court’s investigation,” Lau said. 

Families of victims of “drug war” killings hope the decision of the court’s appeals chamber moves them closer to justice. 

“They look forward to the ICC indicting the 'most responsible': the masterminds and administrators of a cruel and criminal government policy that targeted killing thousands of poor people,” the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and the Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a coalition of individuals whose loved ones were killed during the anti-drug campaign. 

Officially, 6,252 people were killed in Duterte's "war on drugs." But rights groups say that up to 30,000 may have been killed—some innocent victims—and that corruption was rife among security forces that acted with impunity.

What happens next?

The judges confirmed the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber’s earlier decision, allowing Prosecutor Karim Khan to continue with his investigation.

Depending on evidence Khan would be able to gather during his probe, he can seek the issuance of arrest warrants or summonses, possibly against the campaign’s chief architects, Duterte and his former police chief, now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.

Human Rights Watch said the timeline for issuing arrest warrants or summonses to appear in an investigation can vary significantly—ranging from just under two months to over six years.

Once suspects appear before the court, the next step is pre-trial proceedings known as “confirmation of charges.” During these proceedings, ICC judges evaluate the evidence at hand to determine whether there are “substantial grounds” to believe the suspects are responsible for the crimes charged in the indictment.

If a charge or charges are confirmed, a trial date is scheduled.

The ICC faces significant hurdles in securing arrests as it lacks its own police force, and must rely on the cooperation of states and the international community to assist in arrests.

In this particular case, the prospect of anyone being arrested is unlikely as President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. had said he would not cooperate with the ICC. He had called the investigation an interference and attack on the country’s sovereignty.

Marcos’ justice secretary, Jesus Crispin Remulla, said on the eve of the ICC ruling that they will not implement a warrant should it be issued by the international tribunal.

Although the Philippines no longer recognizes the ICC after pulling out of the court in 2019, the tribunal still has jurisdiction over crimes committed while the country was a state party.

No more appeal

Following this dismissal, the Philippines no longer has any recourse for further appeal.

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra earlier said the Philippine government “will continue to focus on its own investigation and prosecution” of alleged “drug war” abuses regardless of the outcome of its appeal.

Guevarra, who was justice secretary during the Duterte administration, filed a notice of appeal on February 3 and asked the ICC to reverse the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber to allow Khan to pursue the investigation. The government said it “disagrees with, and hereby rejects” the conclusions made by the pre-trial chamber in its earlier ruling.

Set up in 2002 to probe the world’s worst crimes, the ICC is a “court of last resort” and steps in and exercises jurisdiction only if countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute offenders.

The Philippine government insists that local courts are functioning well and can exercise jurisdiction over any complaints.

There were only two convictions of law enforcers involved in the "drug war"—the murder of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos and in the case of 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.

vuukle comment




  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with