EDITORIAL - A credible probe

The Philippine Star

Brushing aside comments from the Philippine government, prosecutors of the International Criminal Court are asking the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to order the resumption of its probe on the brutal campaign against illegal drugs that Rodrigo Duterte had waged as president and previously as mayor of Davao City from 2011 to 2016.

A key point of the prosecutors’ request to the PTC is that the Philippine government is not pursuing the angle that the drug killings were carried out in line with state policy – an accusation that the government has rejected. Responding to the prosecutors’ request, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla lamented that the ICC was doing the Philippines a “disservice.”

The Marcos administration has said the country will not rejoin the ICC, but will continue its own probe of the drug killings. Both Remulla and Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra have pointed out the difficulty of finding solid evidence to determine which of over 6,000 drug killings arising from police operations since 2016 were extrajudicial and could point to a systematic disregard for human rights. Remulla has said some police officers might testify about abuses.

The Marcos administration, in a response submitted on Sept. 8 to the PTC’s request for comment on why the ICC probe should not be resumed, said the ICC no longer has jurisdiction over the Philippines, and the country has the capability to conduct its own probe so the ICC need not step in.

ICC prosecutors led by Karim Khan, on the other hand, noted that the Philippine government had failed to show “past or ongoing national proceedings that could match” the planned ICC investigation for possible crimes against humanity committed in Duterte’s war on drugs. An ongoing probe by a special task force, the ICC prosecutors noted, does not cover the period when Duterte was Davao City mayor. The ICC also pointed out that the government’s probe covers mainly “low-level and physical perpetrators” of killings in official police operations “and fail to investigate patterns of conduct or any policy underlying the killings.”

The Office of the Solicitor General has said the killings in the campaign against illegal drugs were not an attack on the civilian population and therefore did not constitute a crime against humanity. The ICC maintains that the drug killings were “incentivized” by statements of Duterte and his officials, and there were no “meaningful steps” taken to investigate or prosecute the killings.

“These facts are more than sufficient to conclude that the killings were committed in furtherance of a state policy,” the ICC prosecutors argued.

In 2018, Duterte had ordered the withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, but this was after the court had announced that it would conduct a preliminary examination of complaints against his war on drugs. The best proof that ICC intervention is not needed is to show that the Philippines is willing and able to conduct its own impartial and credible probe, no matter who gets hurt.


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