MANILA — Former President and House Senior Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo led a group of 19 lawmakers who filed a resolution seeking the "unequivocal defense" of former President Rodrigo Duterte from a possible investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in relation to his anti-narcotics crackdown.
House Resolution 780 claimed that Duterte's presidency ushered "remarkable accomplishments brought about by his relentless campaign against illegal drugs, insurgency, separatism and terrorism, corruption in government and criminality, thus making the life of every Filipino better, comfortable and peaceful."
The resolution also said the country’s peace and order situation "considerably improved due to the Duterte administration’s holistic and whole nation approach in ending insurgency and curbing the drug menace in the country which purportedly resulted in an unprecedented growth in exports and investment."
Other lawmakers who signed the resolution included Reps. Carmelo Lazatin, Jr., Aurelio Gonzales, Anna York Bondoc-Sagum, Jose Alvarez, Mary Mitzi Cajayon-Uy, Richard Gomez, Wilton Kho, Loreto Amante, Edward Hagedorn, Edwin Olivarez, Eric Martinez, Eduardo Rama, Jr., Dale Corvera, Zaldy Villa, Ma. Rene Ann Lourdes Matibag, Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, Johnny Pimentel and Marilyn Primicias-Agabas.
In a separate statement from her office, Arroyo said she is especially keen on ensuring that justice is meted out fairly to everyone as she too was placed under investigation and house arrest during the time of then-President Benigno Aquino III, her immediate successor.
Arroyo's press release noted that all but one of the cases filed against her were eventually dismissed during the Aquino presidency, but she had to remain under hospital arrest for the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) plunder case which was junked during the Duterte administration.
The same statement recalled that the Supreme Court dismissed in July 2016 the PCSO plunder case against the former president and her co-petitioner, Benigno Aguas, ruling that the Sandiganbayan "committed grave abuse of discretion when it denied their respective demurrers to the evidence”.
The statement also added that the Supreme Court’s decision specifically stated that “there was no evidence showing that either GMA or Aguas... had amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth of any amount."
It also noted that “there was no evidence, testimonial or otherwise…. showing the remotest possibility that the CIFs (Confidential/Intelligence Fund) of the PCSO had been diverted to either GMA or Aguas."
Human rights group Karapatan said the resolution filed by Arroyo and her colleagues was "a grave insult to thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings and their families."
"Let it be noted that initiators of this resolution are among those in government who cheered on Duterte and are now seemingly aiding him in evading accountability while poor Filipinos were summarily killed," the group said.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the House resolution had "no bearing and was a "political move."
The international rights group said the only way the Philippine government could head off an investigation by the ICC was "to demonstrate that it was willing and able to deliver justice for [the] victims of the drug war."
"The government was given the opportunity to show that its justice system was working enough to make the ICC superfluous. The pre-trial chamber came to the conclusion that it failed," the HRW said.
The ICC in January authorized the resumption of its investigation into the drug war and the Davao Death Squad killings in the Philippines.
The court said its pre-trial chamber was "not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations that would warrant a deferral of the court's investigations".
Officially, 6,181 people were killed in Duterte's "war on drugs", which began in 2016, but rights groups say that up to 30,000 may have died, some innocent victims, and that corruption was rife among security forces that acted with impunity.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., elected last year, has vowed to continue the drug war but with a focus on prevention and rehabilitation. He has, so far, ruled out reversing Duterte's decision to pull the Philippines out of the ICC.
The Marcos administration said it intended to appeal the reopening of the ICC probe.
Menardo Guevarra, the chief lawyer for the Marcos government, said: "It is our intention to exhaust our legal remedies, more particularly elevating the matter to the ICC appeals chamber."
— With reports from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse