MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — An "overwhelming" number of drug war victims from the Philippines support the International Criminal Court’s potential probe into the drug war killings in the country, the ICC said Monday.
“The representations received overwhelmingly support the OTP [Office of the Prosecutor] Request. They also bring forward the victims’ views and concerns on the OTP Request and on other related matters, including justice, the ICC, the potential scope of an investigation and the impact of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has on victims’ lives and their society,” the ICC said in a statement.
The statement was based on victims representations received by the international tribunal from June to August this year.
The ICC received a total of 204 victims representations on behalf of around 1,530 individual victims and 1,050 families.
94% OF DRUG WAR VICTIMS WANT ICC PROBE
Around 94 percent of the submissions want the ICC prosecutor to investigate the drug war in the Philippines.
The victims representations process is a means for victims of crimes against humanity and other offenses which might be prosecuted by the ICC to make known their views, concerns and expectation to the ICC judges who are part of the Pre-Trial Chamber which will decide whether or not to authorize the full-blown probe.
The ICC opened its doors to victims representations mid-June until August 13 this year, after former Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda disclosed she has sought authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to investigate the drug war in the country.
Bensouda stepped down in June and was replaced by British international lawyer Karim Khan.
Among the reasons cited by the victims in hoping for an ICC probe are the desire for a genuine investigation by an impartial international court, identifying and bringing the perpetrators to justice, ending impunity, and preventing future crimes.
Others want to know the truth about what happened to the victims and to clear their names, while some wanted the victims’ voices to be heard.
“The thousands of Filipino deaths during Duterte's reign of terror [...] have destroyed so many lives. I stand for them, I stand for my brother. You are our last hope ICC. Please help us investigate on this and hold those people involved accountable,” one representation was quoted as saying.
PALACE: REPORT IS MORE OF AN 'OPINION'
Malacañang considers the ICC registry report "as more of the opinion of victims wanting the ICC probe rather than erosion of support of the Filipino people," said President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
He said Duterte continued to command "overwhelming support of the people" and noted a local survey showed 88 percent of Filipinos backed the anti-narcotics drive. Roque did not specify which poll he was referring to.
"It is just unfortunate that the Office of the Prosecutor has been used by his ardent critics and detractors as a political tool," he said in a statement.
"To reiterate, the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute gives us no obligation to cooperate with the ICC, including the opening of its preliminary examination," added the Palace spokesman.
Duterte, who withdrew the Philippines' membership from the Rome Statue that created the ICC, had said he would not cooperate in the pending investigation.
Citing alleged bias of UN officials, Duterte said the ICC was being used as a political tool against him.
Malacañang said the treaty did not take effect in the country because it was not published in a newspaper of general circulation.
Bensouda said the ICC has jurisdiction over alleged crimes in the Philippines from the time it was a party to the Rome Statute until its withdrawal took effect in March 2019.
Roque said alleged victims could still seek redress. "The full gamut of the legal remedies under our domestic laws is and always will be available to them," he said.
MURDER WITH OTHER CRIMES
The redacted copy of the ICC’s registry report on victims’ representations showed that aside from murder, victims want the ICC to probe torture and other inhumane acts, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, attempted murder and sexual violence.
Around 39 percent of the submissions referred to murder as the sole crime allegedly perpetrated by Philippine authorities, but half of them reported murder along with other crimes.
Drug war victims also told the ICC they experienced physical, psychological, material and social harm as well as substantial impairment of fundamental rights.
Some of the victims were concerned about the effectiveness of the Philippine judicial system and its ability and willingness to investigate drug-war related crimes.
Duterte officials have repeatedly insisted that the justice system in the Philippines is working, as shown by the conviction of 3 cops who were found to have summarily killed 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos in August 2017.
But rights advocates pointed out, this is merely a “drop in the bucket” compared to the thousands of victims killed during the drug war.
Official figures from the PNP put the official tally of suspects killed in drug war operations at just above 6,000, but rights groups claim the number could go as high as more than 30,000 if vigilante killings are also included.
Police administrative investigations have only found police liability in 61 cases, of which 53 have been made available for review by the Justice department as part of its commitment to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
By mid-August, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said it has finished reviewing 52 cases from the PNP, apart from its earlier review of about 328 cases of drug operations which it finished in December last year.
The outcome of both reviews have so far not been made public.
One victim who approached the ICC said she has become “disillusioned” with the domestic legal system.
"Justice cannot be reached through domestic mechanisms. We look to the international bodies for redress [...] for the violation of the victims’ rights and the rights of their families, relatives, and community members,” other victims said.
They said they expect fast-tracked proceedings and reparations.
VICTIMS REPRESENTATION PROCESS
The ICC Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS) said it employed both an open and targeted approach in getting information from victims.
The open approach was done through the victims representations forms submitted until August 13 this year.
Aside from the 204 victims representations received, 8 other submissions were deemed not to have met their standards and were not forwarded to the Pre-Trial Chamber.
Targeted approach was done through interlocutors.
ICC VPRS said it prioritized the victims’ security as well as concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Submissions by victims are not considered evidence at this point but are expected to help ICC Pre-Trial Chamber judges decide whether or not to grant the ICC Prosecutor authority to proceed with the requested full-blown probe.
Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes said this was a significant development as this indicates that the victims themselves want the case to move forward.
“This gives a face to the different victims. They have come forward with their stories. They have narrated their experiences ranging from extrajudicial killings to other human rights violations. So this has to be considered by the ICC as an important factor in moving the case forward in the level of a preliminary investigation,” he said.
“There’s a lot to do in terms of achieving accountability for these cases and it’s sad that even the Department of Justice right now has not made much headway because these cases exist and the Philippine government should have been investigating these cases in the first place,” he added.
The National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL), meanwhile, asked the ICC to include in their investigation the killings and arrests of activists in the forefront against Duterte's drug war.
"Many activists and activist organizations have been actively condemning Pres. Duterte's 'war on drugs' and human rights violations, and it is legitimate that the ICC also consider these murders and inhumane acts. We ask the ICC to decide soon as the killings and arrests continue without let up," NUPL chairperson Neri Colmenares said.
"We are confident that with this clamor for justice and Pres. Duterte's weak arguments to avoid accountability, the ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber will ultimately grant the OTP recommendation for formal investigation of all who are involved in these heinous crimes."