MANILA – A lawyer believes the International Criminal Court (ICC) can still gather evidence on the Philippines' war on drugs without setting foot in the country.
“What the ICC needs is evidence. Plain and simple. If they can get the evidence, in any other way aside from going to the Philippines, aside from physically presenting themselves before the Office of the President or any other office, then they can proceed,” said Atty. Kristina Conti, assisting counsel of Rise Up, an organization of the relatives of victims killed in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
ICC judges authorized Wednesday a full-blown investigation into Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign, which rights groups estimate has killed tens of thousands of people, saying it resembled an illegitimate and systematic attack on civilians.
The ICC said there was a "reasonable basis" to believe that the crime against humanity of murder had been committed in the crackdown. The ICC investigation will also cover alleged extra-judicial killings in the southern Davao region between 2011 and 2016, when Duterte was mayor.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, however, said the Philippines will not cooperate with the ICC’s investigation.
"Ang aking prediction po, matutulog lang po ‘yang kasong ‘yan dahil in the absence of cooperation, lalong-lalo na sa kapulisan, wala po talagang ebidensya na makakalap," he said.
Conti, a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said there are ways that lawyers' groups can assist in the ICC investigation.
"First, we will need to cooperate with the Office of the Prosecutor and volunteer ourselves to be part of this prosecution team. Coordinate with them, and as we’ve all seen during this time of the pandemic, there are alternative ways to physical meetings," she said in an ANC interview.
“So we can meet with them virtually, and the mail is open already, the post offices are open, and we can send them the information that we can,” she said.
“To take note, we’ve hurdled several mini-stages already in this investigation all throughout the pandemic, so to be frank physical distance will not be a hindrance to the submission of tension of documents,” she added.
Conti said the ICC move is “significant” for the family members of the victims.
“It’s significant for the collective. Individually the mothers were shouting, screaming, crying, all at the same time. But then, when they look back, it’s no longer about a single person this time,” said
“So far, in the Philippines, we’ve looked at various remedies, which largely focused on individual prosecutions. So for every case, or perhaps every killing, there would be one case in the Philippines. That is if you have evidence, if you have witnesses, if you have documents.”
“So with the ICC, even those who don’t have that strong evidence or documents even to build a case in the Philippines, now they stand a chance to at least have some sort of clarity into all these killings.”
In the interview, Conti said she hopes the ICC investigation will eventually lead to the issuance of an arrest warrant against Duterte.
“For us, we do hope that a warrant of arrest will be issued against President Duterte as the enabler, instigator of all these murders.”
Asked about Roque’s comments that President Duterte would “die first before facing any foreign judge," she said: "It would mean that magtatago na lang siyang parang daga dito sa Pilipinas. Evading the arm of the ICC means he will be staying in places where the ICC has no authority."
Cases may also be built up against policemen and other government officials, she said.
“I do know that the ICC will eventually be finding other high-level, mid-level police officials, politicians involved in this entire war on drugs and would eventually build cases against these individuals.”
With reports by Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News, and Agence France-Presse