President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a message after accepting the testimonies of the new Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See-elect Charles John Brown during the virtual testimony presentation at the Malacañang Palace on December 14, 2020. Ace Morandante, presidential photo
MANILA – A lawyer on Thursday described the latest findings from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines in connection with the government’s drug war.
The Hague-based court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda can seek approval from the Pre-Trial Chamber to conduct a full investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, said Gilbert Andres, deputy executive director of Centerlaw.
“This is a very important finding that the ICC Prosecutor currently believes that crimes against humanity have been committed in the Philippines,” he told ANC’s Matters of Fact.
On December 14, the ICC prosecutor’s office declared it had “found a reasonable basis” to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Duterte’s continued campaign against illegal drugs.
Bensouda’s office opened a preliminary investigation into the killing of thousands of suspected drug users and traffickers in the Philippines in February 2018, including those killed for allegedly resisting the arrest or allegedly shot dead by vigilante law enforcement agencies. Her office intends to decide in the first half of 2021 whether to conduct a full investigation into the incidents.
While the ICC report is a “substantial” step in the further investigation of Duterte’s bloody drug war, Andres has lowered expectations as the current administration is unlikely to cooperate.
“If the Filipino authorities do not cooperate, and I think they will not cooperate, they said so, then it will be difficult to find the evidence,” he said.
On Duterte’s orders in the light of the investigation, the Philippines withdrew from the ICC in 2019. Malacañang declared that the tribunal was no longer responsible for the case.
The president also enjoys immunity from any lawsuit under Filipino law that Andres says could create a legal barrier to the investigation.
If the ICC blames Duterte for the crimes, he said it was “more convenient” to prosecute the president after his term in office.
Amid allegations that the ICC prosecutor had made politics in his drug war investigation, Andres believed Bensouda has no ax against Duterte.
“I don’t think they anticipated the president. In fact, there was no mention of the president in any of the ICC prosecutor’s statements,” he said.
“There weren’t even a lot of words that said it was the president. It was the situation … in the Philippines. So there’s no basis to say the prosecutor was biased.”
When asked if Duterte should be afraid of development, that’s what Andres had to say.
“I think the President and the Philippine Government should really think seriously about this report from the Philippines, in the sense that they should really stop all extrajudicial killing policies here in the Philippines,” he said.
Official figures put the death toll in police operations in the Philippines at over 6,000 since Duterte took office in July 2016. The government denied being behind the summary murders, saying those killed violently resisted arrest and called on officials to defend themselves.
However, human rights groups said the number could be higher, including those classified as “murder under investigation” which are primarily related to the drug war.
Days after the ICC report was released, Duterte said Wednesday that he never ordered law enforcement to kill drug traffickers and other suspects.
“I never ordered that. Remember in everything I say that my anger when I said not to destroy my country … Because I was going to kill you. I didn’t tell MPD (Manila Police District) you will kill, the military will … I said I’ll kill you, “he said in Filipino.
ANC, Facts, Centerlaw, Rodrigo Duterte, Drug War, War On Drugs, International Criminal Court, ICC