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ICC rejects Philippine plea to suspend probe of war on drugs
By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter
THE INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court (ICC) has rejected a Philippine government plea to suspend its investigation of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
In an eight-page decision dated March 27, the court’s Appeals Chamber said the Philippines had failed to persuade the court to suspend the probe.
“The Philippines failed to explain how the alleged absence of a jurisdictional or legal basis for the resumption of the prosecutor’s activities pending the resolution of the appeal would ‘defeat its very purpose and create an irreversible situation that could not be corrected,’” it said.
The Hague-based tribunal said its investigation would not prevent the Philippines from continuing its own probe of rogue cops.
“We don’t have a next move, that is the extent of our involvement with the ICC,” President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. told a news briefing on Tuesday. “That ends all our involvement with the ICC.”
“There is nothing more that we can do in the government, and so at this point we essentially are disengaging from any contact, from any communication, I guess, with the ICC,” he added.
Mr. Duterte canceled Philippine membership in the ICC in 2018. Mr. Marcos has said the Philippines would not rejoin the international tribunal, noting that the probe is a threat to Philippine sovereignty.
“This ruling will have serious and far-reaching consequences for our country,” Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra told BusinessWorld in a Viber message. “It places us in the same class of rogue nations where the rule of law is not respected.”
He said the Philippines is not legally and morally bound to cooperate with the tribunal.
In a 51-page pleading on March 13, the Philippine government asked the chamber to suspend its probe of the drug war, citing lack of authority on the part of the ICC prosecutor. It also said it encroaches on Philippine sovereignty.
The court in January reopened its investigation into killings and so-called crimes against humanity under Mr. Duterte’s drug war. It said it was not satisfied with Philippine efforts to probe human rights abuses during the period.
ICC prosecutor Ahmad A. Khan on Feb. 16 told the ICC the Philippines had not raised new arguments to justify halting the probe.
JUSTICE TO VICTIMS
Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the decision had thwarted the Philippine government’s intention to delay intervention from the international tribunal.
“The Philippine government is clutching at straws as it strives very hard to scuttle the proceedings,” he said in a Viber message. “In the meantime, if it so wishes, the government can conduct its own investigations.”
NUPL Chairman Neri J. Colmenares said the ruling could help bring justice to the families of drug war victims. “The Marcos-Duterte administration could always continue its supposed investigation here while the ICC is also investigating,” the former congressman, who also lawyers for some families of drug war victims, said in a statement.
The tribunal, 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 probe vigilante-style killings in Davao City when Mr. Duterte was still its vice mayor and mayor.
The ICC Appeals Chamber on March 21 allowed families of drug war victims and the ICC’s Office of Public Counsel of Victims (OPCV) to submit comments and observations on the drug war and the government’s appeal to suspend the probe.
European Union lawmakers have urged the Philippine government to rejoin the ICC to reinforce its commitment to human rights.
Last month, Hannah Neumann, vice chairwoman of the European Parliament subcommittee on human rights, said the country’s human rights situation is better now since officials are more willing to talk about it.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla earlier told the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council the Philippine government could investigate human rights abuses without the ICC’s help.
The government estimates that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations. Human rights groups say as many as 30,000 suspects died.
On March 17, the ICC ordered the arrest of Russian President Vladimir 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.
Political experts have said the order showed that the court was serious about punishing erring officials.
Amnesty International in a March 27 report said drug war killings continued under the Marcos administration. “Unlawful killings under the ‘war on drugs’ continued and impunity for thousands of past killings remained entrenched,” it said.
There were 324 drug-related killings in the Philippines last year, 175 of which occurred after Mr. Marcos took office in July, it said, citing a study by the University of the Philippines and Belgium’s Ghent University.
Meanwhile, the International Coalition of Human Rights in the Philippines called on the United States Congress to pass a bill suspending security assistance to the Philippines until it punishes officials responsible for human rights abuses.
“The Philippine Human Rights Act proposed the suspension of US security assistance to the Philippines until the government ensures its judicial system can cleanly and fairly do its job of analyzing these situations and fully allowing any external investigations to take place,” it said in a statement.
US Congresswoman Susan Wild filed the bill in July 2020 in response to the reported extralegal killings during Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
“By blocking assistance to Philippine security forces until such time as human rights standards are met, this bill sends a clear signal: respect for human rights and dignity should be the foundation of US foreign policy, not a talking point that we selectively use when it’s politically convenient,” she said in a statement on March 7.
In March last year, the international coalition vowed to sanction the architects of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs. The campaign sought to impose travel and financial bans on officials involved in human rights violations.
Mr. Colmenares said the ICC should fast-track its probe. “Any delay in the ICC’s investigation would only render the victims and their relatives vulnerable to pressure and attack.”