ICC told to buck Philippine plea to halt drug probe

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

A PROSECUTOR of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has rejected the Philippine government’s plea to deny his request to reopen the court’s probe of its deadly war on drugs.

The ICC has jurisdiction to probe the Philippines, contrary to the state’s claim, Prosecutor Karim Ahmad A. Khan said in a 21-page letter to the ICC’s pre-trial chamber dated Sept. 22 that was posted on the court’s website on Tuesday.

“The Rome Statute does not allow a state to challenge the court’s jurisdiction with respect to a situation,” he said, citing the ICC charter. 

He said states are allowed to challenge the ICC’s jurisdiction only if it is “investigating or has investigated its nationals and others within its jurisdiction with respect to criminal acts which may constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and aggression.”

“The prosecution respectfully reiterates its request that the chamber order the resumption of the investigation into the situation in the Republic of the Philippines.”

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra earlier told the tribunal the alleged murders of drug suspects in police raids were not crimes against humanity because these were not “attacks against the civilian population.”

Mr. Khan disagreed, saying the Philippines has not submitted concrete evidence to disprove the ICC pre-trial chamber’s previous conclusion that extralegal killings during the drug war were part of a “widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population.”

In June, the ICC Prosecutor asked the international tribunal’s pre-trial chamber to reopen the probe since the Philippines allegedly failed to show it had investigated crimes related to the campaign.

He said the chamber should issue an order on an “expedited basis.” It should “receive any further observations it considers appropriate from victims and the government of the Philippines,” he added.

The Hague-based tribunal, which tries people charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, suspended its probe of former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs last year upon the Philippine government’s request.

The ICC was also set to probe vigilante-style killings in Davao City when Mr. Duterte was still its vice mayor and mayor.

Meanwhile, Party-list Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel accused President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. of coddling his predecessor given his refusal for the Philippines to rejoin the ICC.

The president is “repackaging“ Mr. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs so it will become more acceptable to the international community, he told a congressional hearing.

“Yet his efforts to do so will fail as long as he refuses the reentry of the Philippines into the International Criminal Court, and as long as he coddles former President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration killed around 30,000 mostly poor Filipinos as part of the sham war on drugs,” he said.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment. 

The lawmaker made the remark as he asked officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs about the government’s plea not to resume the ICC’s investigation of the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

“Marcos Jr. wants to make it appear to the international community that he is different from his father, who is known globally as a dictator who plunged the Philippines into economic crisis and inflicted human rights violations on tens of thousands of documented victims,” Mr. Manuel said.

The president has said the Philippines would not rejoin the ICC. “This ICC is a very different kind of court, which is why we are carefully studying first the procedure so that our actions won’t be misinterpreted,” he said on Aug. 1.

Mr. Duterte would try to block the ICC probe of his deadly drug war and would not allow foreign interference, his lawyer said last month. 

He would rather undergo trial before a local court and serve time in a Philippine jail if found guilty of violating the law.

The United Nations Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said the government’s probe of human rights violations in connection with its deadly drug war lacks transparency.

“Transparency and public scrutiny in investigative processes and outcomes remain a challenge,” it said in a 16-page report made public on Sept. 13.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said human rights violations from the previous administration’s anti-drug campaign continue under the Marcos administration.

Citing a joint study by the University of the Philippines and Belgium’s Ghent University, Human Rights Watch said there have been 221 drug-related killings from January to August this year.

Only 21% or 62,000 of 291,000 drug cases filed have led to convictions, Interior Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos said in July, citing police data from 2016 to 2022.

The Department of Justice has brought five of the 52 cases involving 150 police officers to court since it started its own probe last year.

Philippine police have said they have killed about 6,000 people in illegal drug raids, many of them resisting arrest. Human rights advocates have placed the death toll at more than 27,000.

Meanwhile, Mr. Marcos has appointed a new human rights commissioner, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.

Beda A. Epres, a former director of the Office of the Ombudsman’s investigation bureau, will serve a seven-year term, according to a copy of an appointment letter dated Sept. 15.

CHR Executive Director Jacqueline Ann C. de Guia met with the newly appointed official after the agency received the appointment letter on Sept. 21.

In June, Human Rights Watch urged Mr. Marcos to appoint commissioners with a proven track record of defending human rights. Mr. Epres has worked at the Office of the Ombudsman, which investigates state corruption, since 1997.

“CHR welcomes his expertise and credibility in conducting independent probes that is crucial to human rights protection,” the agency said in a statement.

The 1987 Constitution empowers the Commission on Human Rights to investigate human rights violations. Commissioners are appointed to seven-year terms and cannot be reappointed.

Also on Tuesday, the CHR said the government should set up voluntary drug abuse treatment centers across the country to uphold the basic rights of drug suspects who have surrendered.

It also warned the government against the use of a drug watch lists, saying these violate due process, privacy and confidentiality.

“We have since expressed support for a human rights-based approach to policies and initiatives for the treatment and recovery of persons who use drugs,” it added.