MANILA (UPDATED)—The International Criminal Court (ICC) has authorized the resumption of its investigation into the bloody drug war and Davao Death Squad killings in the Philippines.
In a statement dated Jan. 26, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) said it has approved ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan's request to continue its probe into "the Situation of the Republic of the Philippines".
"Following a careful analysis of the materials provided by the Philippines, the Chamber is not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations that would warrant a deferral of the Court’s investigations on the basis of the complementarity principle," the international court said.
According to the ICC, Manila's efforts to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines were not satisfactory.
"After having examined the submissions and materials of the Philippines Government, and of the ICC Prosecutor, as well as the victims’ observations, the Chamber concluded that the various domestic initiatives and proceedings, assessed collectively, do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation," the Hague-based international tribunal said.
"This conclusion does not preclude the Philippines from providing material in the future in order for the Prosecution, or the Chamber, to determine inadmissibility of the investigation or of any actual case, if and when needed," it added.
International rights group Human Rights Watch praised the ICC's decision, saying the ICC investigation "is the only credible avenue for justice for the victims and their families of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous 'war on drugs.'"
"As the court’s judges agreed, Philippine authorities are not 'undertaking relevant investigations' into these crimes or 'making a real or genuine effort' to carry these investigations out. The ICC offers a path forward to fill the accountability vacuum," it said.
The Philippine government last September argued in a 62-page filing that the ICC lacks jurisdiction to conduct the probe and that the alleged crimes are insufficiently grave to warrant further action by the international court.
Manila's submission, signed by Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra and five assistant solicitors general, also claimed the Philippine government has investigated and prosecuted the alleged crimes or is doing so.
But Khan rejected Manila's arguments a few days after, saying in a 21-page submission to the ICC PTC that the government has failed to substantiate its claim that the Philippines justice system "generally functions well" and administrative proceedings "may or can" result in criminal proceedings.
Khan had examined investigations conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inter-Agency Review Panel, the Administrative Order No. 35 (AO 35) Committee, the Philippine National Police Internal Affairs Service and the writ of amparo (protective writ) proceedings.
He emphasized that the DOJ inter-agency panel and the AO 35 Committee were not able to show “tangible, concrete, and progressive investigative steps” such as interviewing witnesses or suspects, and collecting documentary evidence, among others.
Khan also noted that the probes into drug war-related killings in Davao from 2011 to 2016 or those perpetrated by vigilantes were not substantiated, and that neither were there probes of drug war-related torture.
The ICC Prosecutor suspended his probe in November 2021 due to the Philippine government's deferral request.
But Khan asked the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to grant the resumption of the probe in June 2022 after finding that Manila has not reportedly demonstrated it has investigated or is investigating crimes within the international court's jurisdiction.
More than 6,000 drug suspects were killed in police operations in the country during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s term from 2016 to 2022, authorities said, citing official tallies.
Rights groups, however, estimate the figure could go as high as 30,000, including those who were killed by vigilantes and unknown perpetrators.
Following petitions by various international and domestic rights groups over the killings, former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda decided in 2021 to open a preliminary examination into the war on drugs in the Philippines.
Before she stepped down as ICC Prosecutor in June 2021, Bensouda sought the PTC's permission to proceed with the investigation into the drug war, including killings in Davao from November 2011 to June 2016, when Duterte served both as mayor and vice mayor.
The chamber granted the request in September 2021.