By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Philippine government should cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation on drug-related killings, said Rise Up for Life and for Rights, an organization of families of victims of extrajudicial killings under then President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs.
“As victims of abuse and families of those killed, we want–in fact, we are on the edge of our seats in anticipation–for the investigation phase of the ICC to immediately and vigorously proceed,” the group said in a statement.
Yesterday, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in his response to the Appeals Chamber’s rejection of the Philippine government’s request, said that the government will be disengaging from any communication with the ICC.
On March 27, ICC’s Appeals Chamber rejected the Philippine government’s appeal to suspend the investigation on drug-related killings that took place between Nov. 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019, when the Philippines was still party to the Rome Statute.
“It is our prayer that the ICC investigation will ferret out truth and evidence that can bring justice and accountability for the killings of our loved ones,” the group said.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, the assisting counsel of families, said it is all systems go for the ICC investigation on the drug-related killings.
“We are reassured by the decision of the Appeals Chamber of the ICC on the Philippines’ request to suspend the investigation pending its appeal, and on the victims’ involvement. So far, the ICC proceedings are on track and aligned with our search for genuine justice for the victims of grave rights violations,” said Kristina Conti, secretary general of NUPL-National Capital Region.
Conti said the Philippine government’s request for Suspensive Effect would have delayed the ICC investigation which had been approved by the Pre-Trial Chamber in September 2021 and in January 2023.
She added that the Philippine government’s argument that the investigations and justice system at the national level are working was only “exposed to be farcical and repetitive.”
“The Philippines has lost its bid to yet again delay and ultimately, rebuff an investigation into crimes against humanity committed from 2011-2019, in the context of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’. It also lost the argument that victims should not be allowed to comment on the matter, after it opposed the request of victims and the Office of the Public Counsel for Victims to participate,” Conti said.
While the Appeals Chamber said that the Philippine government may continue with its own investigation, the NUPL is still concerned that the “domestic investigations are not transparent, comprehensive, and conducive enough to earn the victims trust.”
Meanwhile, former senator Leila De Lima said that “defenders of Duterte in the Marcos Jr. administration should now realize that the ICC is determined to enforce the Rome Statute so long as the Philippine government does not undertake a serious, in-depth and comprehensive investigation and prosecution of the masterminds of Duterte’s drug war killings.”
“No amount of simulated investigations or the token prosecution of small fry will fool the ICC into withdrawing its mandate insofar as taking jurisdiction over crimes against humanity committed in the Philippines is concerned,” De Lima said in a statement.
The ICC can still investigate crimes against humanity committed by a state party when it was still a member of the Rome Statute. In the case of the Philippines, Duterte withdrew from the Statute in May 2018, which took effect in May 2019.
Article 127 Rome Statute of the ICC states that “a State shall not be discharged, by reason of its withdrawal, from the obligations arising from this Statute while it was a Party to the Statute.” The Rome Statute further states that a State’s withdrawal shall not affect any criminal investigations and proceedings which were commenced prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective, nor shall it prejudice in any way the continued consideration of any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.”
De Lima also criticized the hiring of an international lawyer by the government in defense of Duterte. She said the government should not spend funds that benefit those who are being investigated by the ICC, and not the Filipino people.
“The Solicitor General should just refer the international lawyer he hired to Duterte and let the former President foot the bill for his own defense, instead of spending public funds for the personal and private interest of Duterte,” De Lima said.
“The government should never take the cudgels for every public officer, let alone a former official, accused of committing criminal acts in the guise of defending Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the criminals. Let Duterte and his co-conspirators in the drug war face the music before the ICC. Be on the side of humanity. Be on the right side of history,” she added.
Meanwhile, Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary general, said that Marcos Jr.’s decision to disengage with the ICC only becomes evident that the Marcos Jr. administration “has no intentions of exacting justice and accountability from the perpetrators and in fact, maintains the same policies and the same climate of impunity that had led Duterte and his minions to get away with murder.”
Palabay added that Marcos Jr.’s statement ” exposes his government’s empty platitudes and rhetoric before the international community that the human rights situation in the Philippines is fine, and that its so-called fully functioning justice system is intent on investigating, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators of the past regime’s bloody war on drugs.”
Recent data from the Third World Studies Center of the University of the Philippines showed that drug-related killings continue under the Marcos Jr. administration. From July 2022 to March 23, the group recorded at least 234 reported drug-related killings. (RTS, RVO)