House panel won't invite Rodrigo Duterte to EJK probe

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
House panel won't invite Rodrigo Duterte to EJK probe
Former president Rodrigo Duterte and former Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa attend the funeral mass of Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla at San Pedro Cathedral in Davao City on Jan. 15, 2024.
Facebook / Bong Go

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives' human rights committee has opted not to summon former President Rodrigo Duterte to its upcoming investigation on the extrajudicial killings that happened during the "war on drugs" that he initiated.

Committee chairperson Rep. Benny Abante (Manila, 6th district) said that Duterte and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa will be excluded from the House inquiry out of courtesy, while Dela Rosa's successor, Oscar Albayalde, will be asked to attend.

"I don’t even think that if we invite (Duterte and Dela Rosa) that they will be able to attend. But we will invite those who were really there," Abante said.

Similarly, Rep. Zia Alonto Adiong (Lanao del Sur, 1st District) said the committee is exercising the principle of parliamentary courtesy by not inviting Dela Rosa — Duterte's first police chief to implement his "war on drugs" from 2016-2018.

Former Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and other members of Duterte's Cabinet may be asked to appear before the committee, Abante said.

The House human rights panel has set its first formal hearing into Duterte's drug war on May 22, which Abante said aims to "listen to all sides to find out the truth" and "not to pass judgment." 

"They are alleged drug users and dealers. They were not convicted because these alleged [extra-judicial killing] victims were silenced. They were denied their rights," Abante said. 

"Now, it is our responsibility to the victims of alleged extrajudicial killings and their families to seek the truth," the lawmaker said, adding that he will ensure that the probe is conducted in an impartial and fair manner.

Abante said that the panel is considering inviting select victims of extra-judicial killings, particularly parents of minors.

The committee has also been briefed by individuals and organizations on data related to the extra-judicial killings that occurred under Duterte's so-called "war on drugs," as well as legal issues in its implementation, Abante said.

"The volume of information is considerable," the lawmaker added.

Cracks in the Duterte-Marcos alliance have been deepening since the start of 2023 but became increasingly public after the House stripped Sara of her request for confidential funds last year. The House is dominated by President Marcos Jr.'s allies and led by his cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez.

The feud has since exploded after Marcos and Duterte early this year traded barbs and publicly accused each other of abusing substances, drawing battle lines between two former allies.

House leaders last year scored Duterte for his remarks against Romualdez and criticized him for "(maligning) the very institution that… supported many of his own legislative priorities" when he was president. 

Dela Rosa, Albayalde faces ICC probe

Kristina Conti, assistant to counsel at the International Criminal Court (ICC), said last week that Dela Rosa and Albayalde were explicitly named in public documents as possible subjects of investigation by the ICC. 

Will the findings of the House human rights panel be forwarded to the ICC? Abante said: "I will not only be the one to decide on that but the rest of the committee members. So, we'll talk about that more later on."

As human rights panel chair, Abante also said that while he supports Marcos' position on not returning the Philippines' membership to the Rome Statute, and hence, the ICC, he would also like to "listen to others that would like the ICC to investigate."

"If the ICC's [accusations] are not true, why not invite them to come so we could be able to prove them wrong? [...] Because the thing is, the international community would even believe the ICC accusation, what about the Philippines would be saying," Abante said.

"So, in order to put a stop to this, let's look at it closely, if whatever accusation the ICC has can be proven wrong," the lawmaker said. 

The ICC — considered the court of last resort for countries unwilling or unable to prosecute offenders — is investigating the alleged crimes against humanity committed under the drug war waged by Duterte during his term as president, and earlier, Davao City mayor. The probe covers the period from 2011 to 2019, when the Philippines was still a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC.

Official figures put deaths from Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign at more than 6,000, but estimates from human rights groups peg the actual number of fatalities as at least 30,000.

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