ICC can now issue arrest warrants over drug deaths

Janvic Mateo, Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
ICC can now issue arrest warrants over drug deaths
The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court in The Hague will rule today on the Philippine government’s appeal for the prosecutor not to proceed with the investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed in the war on drugs under former president Rodrigo Duterte and ex-PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has made it clear authorities would not cooperate with ICC prosecutors.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court can now apply for the issuance of arrest warrants at the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber.

The Philippine government has said it will not implement any arrest warrant from the ICC.

“At this stage, the prosecutor can actually already decide who he might charge with crimes against humanity, which is what the original request to be allowed to investigate was meant to do,” International Center for Transitional Justice senior expert Ruben Carranza said yesterday in an interview on ANC.

But Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said on July 17 that the government will not execute arrest warrants that the ICC may issue.

“They have nothing to do here. What will they do? Invade us? Do they want to invade us like a colony again?” he said.

ICC judges can issue warrants of arrest – or alternatively, a summons – to ensure that persons appear at trial and do not obstruct or endanger the investigation or court proceedings, or prevent persons from continuing with the commission of a crime.

The ICC’s judgment published on July 18 allowed the resumption of the investigation into the thousands of extrajudicial killings and rights abuses committed during former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

The drug war’s chief implementer Sen. Ronald dela Rosa said he is “unbothered” by the ICC decision.

Under the drug war, at least 6,200 people were killed in police operations based on government records. Human rights groups, however, said the actual death toll could be from 12,000 to 30,000.

‘Major step’

For lawyers’ groups representing victims in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, the ICC Appeals Chamber’s latest judgment is a major step toward justice for victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) echoed the sentiment of victims’ families: the decision will bring them closer to justice.

“(The decision) is a concrete answer to the prayers of the victims’ communities who are still seeking justice for their murdered family members under the Duterte war on drugs,” CenterLaw said in a statement yesterday.

CenterLaw said the decision is a call for the Marcos administration to “lend credence” to its repeated commitment to human rights by fully cooperating with ICC prosecutors on their investigation.

“The Appeals Court decision affirms the clear fact: that the Philippine Government has not investigated the crimes against humanity committed under the Duterte war on drugs. There is thus no basis for the Philippine government to insinuate that the ICC is driven by politics or out to usurp its sovereignty,” it added.

The decision is a “sobering warning” that countries cannot escape ICC jurisdiction by simply withdrawing from the Rome Statute, according to CenterLaw.

“Ultimately, impunity does not pay even in withdrawal,” it added.

The Duterte administration officially withdrew from the Rome Statute, a treaty that established the ICC, in March 2018. The ICC explained it still has jurisdiction on crimes committed before the Philippines’ withdrawal.

“Oriented on how the ICC works, the families have hope that this moves us 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 NUPL said yesterday.

Impact on Maharlika

The Philippines’ international standing and the sovereign wealth fund that President Marcos recently signed will be impacted if the government chooses to not cooperate with the ICC proceedings, according to infrastructure-oriented think tank Infrawatch PH.

“By continuing to block attempts by the ICC to hold Mr. Duterte accountable for his regime’s drug war, it may signal to the international community that the Philippines is unserious and insincere about universal principles, such as respect for human rights and dignity and the rule of law,” said Infrawatch convenor Terry Ridon.

“This has greater impact today, now that the Maharlika Investment Fund has already been signed into law,” he added.

Refusing to cooperate in the proceedings against a former president will not serve Marcos’ plan to turn the country into an investment destination, according to Ridon.

Sara: No comment

“No comment,” Vice President Sara Duterte said in response to the ICC ruling.

It is unclear if she is also a subject of the investigation.

Fact-checking group Vera Files earlier reported that Sara Duterte, Davao City mayor in 2010-2013 and 2016-2022, was included in some documents submitted by the ICC.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the Marcos administration should view the ICC’s decision as an opportunity to show Marcos’ commitment to a “high level of accountability” in terms of human rights violations.

“CHR is willing, ready and able to assist the government so it may better comply with its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all, especially the vulnerable and aggrieved,” the CHR said in a statement yesterday.

Supposed reforms by the government to improve the human rights situation in the country are also supported by the CHR.

“We hope these efforts ultimately yield justice for the victims and better respect for the human rights and dignity for all,” the CHR said.

‘No more alibis’

The Marcos administration has no alibis left to protect former president Duterte and further delay investigations on extrajudicial killings that his administration may have committed, according to progressive women’s group Gabriela.

“As the ICC junks the Philippine government’s appeal... the Marcos Jr. administration is now left with no more alibis to further delay the process,” Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas said in a statement.

“For three times in a row, the chamber quashed attempts by the Marcos Jr. administration to shield Duterte from investigation and prosecution, decisively exposing the hollowness of the excuses raised,” she added.

Brosas hopes Marcos will respect the ICC’s decision so that the victims’ families will “move closer to the attainment of truth and justice.”

‘Truth and punishment’

The ICC investigation will hopefully identify and punish culprits in Duterte’s drug war, a high-ranking Catholic priest said.

“It’s time that the ICC would dig thoroughly into this mess. We hope that their investigation will lead us to the truth and punishment for the guilty,” Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs executive secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano said on July 19.

“The drug war has led to some of the most violent crackdowns in the country. The cost of lives should never be ignored,” he added. — Elizabeth Marcelo, Sheila Crisostomo, Evelyn Macairan

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