ICC Appeals Chamber allows victims to comment on whether PH drug war probe should continue

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 22 2023 08:18 PM

MANILA — The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has allowed victims and victim groups to submit their comments on the Philippine government’s appeal, which seeks to overturn the ruling allowing the resumption of the tribunal’s probe on the drug war and Davao Death Squad killings in the Philippines.

In a decision dated March 21, Presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut ruled it is “appropriate for victims to be involved in these appeals proceedings.”

On February 24, some 90 applicants filed a victims' request before the ICC Appeals Chamber so that they can express their views and concerns on the Philippine government’s appeal brief, which was submitted on March 13.

The victims claimed that whether ICC "investigations will take place or be deferred has an immediate and direct effect on their personal interests, as ‘they have not been able to obtain justice and remedies for the crimes committed against their family members’.” 

The probe, they said, “could shed light on alleged crimes and identify potential perpetrators” and could be the “premise for any future prosecution and possible reparation[s].”

The Philippine government opposed the move, claiming it could not discern the identity of the legal representative and if the 90 applicants have been subjected to a preliminary assessment by the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS).

But the ICC Appeals Chamber ruled in favor of the victims' request, instructing the VPRS to collect and submit the representations from victims and victims groups by May 22, 2023.

In August 2021, the VPRS submitted victims representations to the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber showing 94 percent or an “overwhelming support” for the ICC Office of the Prosecutor to conduct a probe on the drug war killings in the Philippines. 

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber, a month later, eventually authorized the ICC probe.

The Philippines had, since then, sought to defer the probe, only to be rejected by the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber in January this year.

It filed its appeal brief on March 13.

In the same ruling, the ICC Appeals Chamber allowed the Office of the Public Counsel for Victims (OPCV) to submit its own written observations to the Philippine government’s appeal brief by May 18, despite the Philippine government's opposition.

OPCV had manifested its intention to represent the general interests of victims.

The ICC Appeals Chamber also rejected the Philippine government's request for access to victims' submissions and the need to scrutinize these submissions.

But it granted the country’s request to be notified of public and confidential filings in the appellate proceedings, subject to certain exceptions.

The ICC probe will cover thousands of drug war killings in the Philippines during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s term from 2016 to 2022.

Authorities claimed more than 6,000 drug suspects were killed but rights groups estimate the figure could go as high as 30,000, including those who were killed by vigilantes and unknown perpetrators.

It will also investigate killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad from 2011 until 2016, when Duterte served both as vice mayor and mayor of Davao City.