MANILA (UPDATE)—The International Criminal Court's (ICC) move to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte and his anti-narcotics campaign brings hope to relatives of victims of alleged extrajudicial killings, lawmakers, lawyers and rights advocates said Thursday.
The ICC's investigation will cover killings since Duterte assumed office in July 2016 until the Philippines' withdrawal from the Rome Statute on March 16, 2019. It will also look into killings in Davao City from November 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016, when Duterte served as mayor and vice mayor.
"It is about time that a full investigation is conducted on Duterte’s drug war. We are very hopeful that justice will soon be served for the victims, their families, and our whole country traumatized by the violence under Duterte’s administration," said Magdalo Party-List Rep. Manuel Cabochan III.
Cabochan slammed Duterte and his administration's decision not to cooperate with the ICC, which he said would "gravely undermine the rule of law.
"It is a desperate and selfish act to protect themselves before the public’s interest. Kung sa bagay matagal nang undermined ang rule of law at public interest sa administrasyong ito," he said.
(This administration has long undermined the rule of law and public interest.)
The ICC decision brings the President and his cohorts "another step closer to prison," said former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who initiated the filing of charges against Duterte before the ICC.
“To the families of the EJK victims, this is another step closer to attaining justice for your loved ones. To Duterte and his cohorts, this is another step closer to prison,” he said.
It is time for President Rodrigo Duterte to face the investigation, said Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
"Minsan dapat sundin ni Presidente ang sarili niyang mga salita: Kung walang itinatago, bakit matatakot?" she said in a statement.
(The President should follow his own advice: If you're not hiding anything, why will you be scared?)
"Inaasahan ko ring aktibong makikipagtulungan ang sambayanan, partikular na ang ating mga opisyal, upang siguraduhing mananagot ang lahat ng may sala."
(I also expect the nation to cooperate, particularly our officials, to ensure everyone involved will be held accountable.)
Sen. Leila de Lima, meanwhile, said Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, Duterte's first police chief as President, can cooperate with the ICC or "go down with Duterte."
"Unlike Duterte, Sen. Bato still has a long life ahead of him, and therefore might not be gifted with an early death to stave off arrest and prosecution by the ICC," she said.
"Although the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber fell short of issuing the corresponding warrants of arrest against Duterte, Dela Rosa, and the members of the Davao Death Squad, it is only a matter of time before international arrest warrants are indeed issued by the ICC in light of the refusal of the Duterte administration to cooperate and participate in the investigation."
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate welcomed the ICC's decision to also investigate the alleged Davao Death Squad killings during Duterte's term as mayor and vice mayor.
"A whiff of good news long awaited in the midst of this climate of impunity that is running amok in the country today. The time for reckoning and accountability is near. We hope the investigation would start in earnest, to stem the increasing and rampant killings in the country," he said.
"This is a clear warning to rights violators that impunity is not eternal."
Duterte's crimes may "finally catch up" with him, according to Albay Rep. and human rights lawyer Edcel Lagman.
"Duterte’s centerpiece program of eliminating the drug menace has degenerated into a killing field of drug suspects who invariably come from the marginalized and disadvantaged sectors," he said.
DRUG WAR VICTIMS' KIN TO COOPERATE
The ICC can expect the "full cooperation" of families of drug war victims, according to the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, which provides counsel for them.
"We intend to bypass the Duterte government’s refusal to cooperate by supplying the OTP (ICC Office of the Prosecutor) with original and authenticated evidence, documentary, testimonial, even object evidence, which will be necessary to build the strongest case possible," NUPL chairman Neri Colmenares said.
"The toll of the 'war on drugs' has been exceptionally heavier on the poor, as has been in every disaster, natural or man-made. The ICC decision lends them the right to hope that justice will be served somehow, some day. We have to stand by them every step of the way."
The ICC had received a total of 204 victims representations on behalf of around 1,530 individual victims and 1,050 families.
More than 7,000 people have been killed in over 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to official data. Human rights groups estimate the number of dead could be several times higher.