MANILA – The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) move to probe President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs and the Davao killings is a momentous occasion for families of victims in the southern Philippine City, a human rights advocate said Thursday.
The ICC has said that its probe will also cover killings in Davao from November 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016, when Duterte served as either mayor or vice mayor.
“This is quite significant, and this is a momentous occasion obviously for the families of the victims of not just of the drug war, but of the Davao death squad killings,” Human Rights Watch senior Philippines researcher Carlos Conde said.
“The fact that the ICC pre-trial chamber included the killings from 2011 to 2016 is hugely, hugely important because they’re trying to establish that this was a very systematic and widespread crimes against humanity, and there are tons of evidence, of witnesses, of information that they can access to try to prove their case,” he said on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines.”
Conde, who lived and worked as a journalist in Davao, said this move may push the kin of those killed in the southern Philippine city to continue seeking justice.
“This investigation is going to serve like a balm to the suffering of the victims of the drug war and of the killings in Davao. This will embolden them to seek further justice.”
“This will be justice to them. Even at this very, very early stage of this investigation, this already means a lot to them,” he said.
In February 2017, Duterte, responding to a claim of retried SPO3 Arturo Lascañas, a self-confessed leader of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS), said it is true that criminals were indeed killed in his Davao City during his more than 20-year reign, but he said the killings were carried out in legitimate police operations.
“Ingon anaa'y testigos nga 'killed by the hundreds' (Ang sabi ng testigo, 'killed by the hundreds). Tama nga. That is true. Twenty-three years akong mayor kahahabol ng droga. Dapat dumating iyan sa libo, eh sabi niya by the hundreds lang. Why would I deny that?”
(This witness, he said hundreds were killed. That is true. In the 23 years I was mayor, I was running after the illegal drug trade. In fact, the deaths should run by the thousands. He said the deaths only ran by the hundreds. Why would I deny that?)
Duterte said then that he authorized the police to kill, but only if a drug suspect would turn violent and put the lives of authorities at risk.
A few weeks later, he gave a blanket denial to all the claims of Lascañas.
Duterte had addressed the Davao Death Squad issue many times but has given conflicting statements about it.
Meanwhile, Conde responded to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo’s statement that the ICC "is being utilized as a political and propaganda apparatus by those usual suspects who will do anything to dethrone the President from his seat."
“The predictable response--dismissing this, it is just political propaganda--to me, that’s obscene. That’s just spitting on the grave of the thousands and thousands of victims in this violent campaign by the president way back in Davao City,” said Conde.
“So really, the Palace needs to respond to this more than that. I mean, it cannot just dismiss this, because we have to keep in mind that the ICC is a very rigorous judicial institution,” he said.
--ANC, 16 September 2021