The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will continue to study complaints filed against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte despite the mercurial leader’s refusal to recognize the organization.
In its annual report of investigations released December 5, the office of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said it will pursue the process of validating some 52 “communications” sent by Filipino individuals and groups, including the families of persons killed during sanctioned police operations.
The ICC prosecutor placed the Philippines under Phase 2 of its work program, a preliminary investigation to find whether it has jurisdiction over crimes cited in complaints against Duterte.
The study will include future allegations of crimes, said the ICC prosecutor.
The ICC said it is investigating crimes allegedly committed since July 1, 2016 when Duterte assumed the presidency.
Families of some of the thousands of victims of extra-judicial killings linked to Duterte’s “war on drugs” filed suit in August this year with the help of the church-organized volunteer group Rise Up for Rights and Life and the National Union of Lawyers of the Philippines (NUPL).
The ICC report “will give strength to families who have refused to be cowed by threats and insults and vilification from pursuing justice for their kin,” said Rise Up convenor Nardy Sabino.
Former Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque had dismissed the filing of charges by Rise Up families, claiming it would go nowhere.
“They know it is not an easy road and could take time but this is early vindication for those who stand their ground for truth and justice,” Sabino added.
Davao Death Squad
Early last year, lawyer Jude Sabio, counsel of retired police officer and self-confessed “Davao Death Squad member” Edgar Matobato, filed a case related to crimes allegedly done by Duterte during his long tenure as mayor of southern Philippines’s biggest city.
The ICC report’s contextual section cites Duterte’s stint as Davao City mayor, his pronouncements on the need to kill drug addicts and pushers and the deaths of some 1,000 suspects across those years.
Under his presidency, multilateral agencies like the United Nations, rights groups and a number of national governments have expressed concern about Duterte’s repeated incitement for state security forces to up the kill count in his drug war.
The Prosecutor said complaints filed with its office place the number of murders at 12,000. The Philippine National Police only claims agents killed less than 5,000 suspects, all acts of self defense.
Last week, a court in a northern Manila suburb convicted 3 police officers for the August 16, 2017 murder of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos.
Police claimed Kian was a drug courier who was shot while resisting arrest. But community security cameras caught police coming on Kian as he was having snacks, and as they dragged the unarmed youth through alleys. Forensic experts said they killed Kian on his knees; witnesses said they heard his pleas.
Kian’s murder happened around the time Duterte egged on police to “kill more” after a one-night bloodbath that killed more than 30 suspects in Bulacan, less than 50 kilometers north of the capital.
As early as October 2016, the ICC Prosecutor cautioned that those who incite the commission of crimes that fall under the Court’s jurisdiction could be liable, too.
Duterte refuses to recognize the ICC. The Philippines officially withdrew its membership, which dates back to Nov 1, 2011 on March 17 this year.
“In accordance with article 127, the Philippines’ withdrawal will become effective one year after this date. The Court retains jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes that have occurred on the territory of the Philippines during the period when it was a State Party to the Statute,” the Prosecutor stressed.
It said its preliminary examination “focuses on allegations that President Duterte and other senior government officials promoted and encouraged the killing of suspected or purported drug users and/or dealers, and in such context, members of PNP forces and private individuals (such as vigilante groups) have carried out thousands of killings throughout the Philippines and in particular in the Metro Manila area.”
Edre Olalia, NUPL president, said the ICC report means “Duterte still faces potential liability before the ICC anytime despite the self-serving and arguably dubious withdrawal by the Philippine government last March, obviously to escape accountability.”
The report said “most of the victims have been young men, especially from urban areas and poorer backgrounds, who were suspected of having some involvement in crime- or drug-related activities.” It also noted that the dead include local officials linked to drug trafficking and “over 70 persons aged 18 and under” … “including 5 alleged cases where the victims were 7-years-old or younger.”
The report said that Bensouda’s office “has continued to gather, receive and review information available from a wide range of sources on the crimes allegedly committed in the context of the ‘war on drugs’,” and “subjected such information to rigorous source evaluation, including assessment of reliability of sources and credibility of information received.”
“The Office has focused on recording, on an ongoing basis, relevant alleged incidents and examining the circumstances in which such incidents reportedly occurred and particular key features, such as in relation to the profile of alleged victims, the identity of the perpetrators and modus operandi employed,” and “has also engaged and consulted with relevant stakeholders, including by holding meetings at the seat of the Court” even as it “has further closely followed relevant developments in the Philippines and will continue to do so."
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