By John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters
THE INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine shows that the court is functioning and could punish erring officials in ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly drug war, experts said at the weekend.
“If sufficient evidence is gathered against Duterte, a warrant of arrest could also be issued against him, which can be implemented in any of the member states,” Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said in a Viber message.
Herminio L. Roque, Jr., Mr. Duterte’s lawyer, did not immediately reply to a Facebook Messenger chat seeking comment.
The tribunal has jurisdiction over the alleged crimes since they were committed in Ukraine, which is a member of the ICC, Mr. Cortez said. Russia withdrew from the international court in 2016.
On March 17, the Hague-based court ordered the arrest of Mr. Putin and Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, accusing them of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.
The bold legal move will obligate the court’s 123 member states to arrest Mr. Putin and transfer him to the Hague for trial if he sets foot into their territory. About 16,221 Ukrainian children were forcibly taken to Russia.
“In the case of the situation of the Philippines, the Office of the Prosecutor is still in the process of conducting an investigation to gather evidence and identify the proper person to be charged,” Mr. Cortez said.
Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has consistently opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between the two countries.
But his government is unlikely to embrace the ICC’s order “given Manila’s own current relationship with the court,” Gregory “Greg” B. Poling, a senior fellow of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a Messenger chat. “I would expect the Philippine government to steer clear.”
In January, the ICC pre-trial chamber reopened its investigation into killings under Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign — a move that has angered the Philippine Justice department and Mr. Duterte’s allies in Congress.
“Manila is unlikely to make a statement about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s case given its defense of Duterte,” Lucio B. Pitlo III, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, said via Messenger chat. “Marcos Jr. will likely stand by his political ally and the father of his former running mate and now Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio.”
Last week, the Philippines asked the ICC Appeals Chamber to suspend its probe of the previous administration’s anti illegal drug campaign, saying it does not have jurisdiction over it.
“The ICC prosecution’s activities in furtherance of its investigations would lack any legal foundation and encroach on the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines,” state lawyers including Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra said in a 51-page plea.
The Hague-based tribunal’s pre-trial chamber in January reopened its investigation into killings and so-called crimes against humanity under Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign. It said it was not satisfied with Philippine efforts to probe the human rights abuses during the period.
Mr. Duterte canceled Philippine membership in the ICC in 2018. His successor President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has said the Philippines would not rejoin the international tribunal.
ICC prosecutor Ahmad A. Khan on Feb. 16 told the international court the Philippines had not raised new arguments to justify halting the probe.
“It clearly sends the message that ICC is a working institution,” Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University, said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “However, we have yet to see if it can really execute the arrest especially for a sitting president or head of government. It will rely on the cooperation of other governments to accomplish this.”
He cited the case of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who was charged with war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo before the International Criminal Court.
Mr. Milosevic faced 66 counts of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s.
Mr. Guevarra has said the state is fully aware of the abuses committed by law enforcers in the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
The government early this month asked the ICC to reject separate pleas by the families of drug war victims and the ICC’s Office of Public Counsel for Victims (OPCV) to testify in court.
The public counsel’s motion and the anonymous request from the victims fall foul of procedural and substantive requirements, state lawyers said in an eight-page pleading dated March 2.
It said the ICC office did not have a role in the collection of views and concerns of drug war victims.
The ICC, which tries people charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and aggression, suspended its probe of Mr. Duterte’s deadly drug war in 2021 upon the Philippine government’s request.
It was also set to prove vigilante-style killings in Davao City when Mr. Duterte was still its vice mayor and mayor.
Meanwhile, the Nagkaisa labor coalition said the government should create an independent commission to probe drug war killings and wrongful deaths of trade unionists.
“The commission should not be seen as an alternative to the ICC investigation, but should be used primarily for fact finding, identifying victims and investigating individual culprits and assisting in their prosecution,” it said in a statement.
In January, representatives from the International Labour Organization (ILO) visited the Philippines to look into human rights violations in the labor sector. The team also held dialogues with 52 trade union officials, labor groups and employers.
At least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations, according to data released by the Philippine government in June 2021. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died. The Philippine Human Rights Commission has said the Duterte government had encouraged a culture of impunity by hindering independent inquiries and failing to prosecute erring cops.
“The government’s efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for these killings will be crucial in restoring public trust in the justice system,” Nagkaisa said.