MANILA — The Philippine government is currently assessing the next step following the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor’s reiteration of its request to resume the probe on the killings connected to the Philippine drug war and the Davao Death Squad.
“The Office of the Solicitor General is presently considering whether there is a need to reply to the Prosecutor’s response,” Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said in a message to the media Wednesday, a day after it was first reported that ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has rejected as having “no merit” the Philippine government’s arguments seeking to stop the probe.
Khan, in a 21 page submission, told the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber that the Philippine government has not substantiatied its claim that the Philippine justice system is or has investigated and prosecuted crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.
The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber is set to decide whether to allow the ICC Prosecutor to push through with the probe after the Philippine government asked for a deferral last year.
“Regardless of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s ruling, however, the Philippine government will avail itself of all legal remedies, both domestic and international, even as it vigorously pursues its own investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in relation to the government’s so-called war on drugs, all within the framework of our own legal and judicial system,” Guevarra said.
This could include hiring foreign lawyers.
“The OSG represents the state, but we may consider engaging any foreign counsel as and when the need arises. Should the ICC investigation result in the indictment of individual persons, the latter will have to engage their own respective private counsel to defend themselves,” he explained.
Guevarra, who was former President Rodrigo Duterte’s justice secretary, signed the Philippine government’s September 8 submission to the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber which sought to deny the Khan’s request.
REMULLA: NO NEED TO RESPOND
But if Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla had his way, there’s no longer a need to respond to Khan’s submission.
“We are not members of the ICC. We are doing this out of comity. We are being courteous to them,” he said during a press conference at the DOJ Wednesday afternoon.
He reiterated the Philippine government’s position: “We are a functioning democracy. Our judicial system is functioning.”
Remulla defended Philippine probes against Khan’s observation that they were too few compared to the thousands killed in the drug war.
He cited the problem of securing witnesses to testify in court and the need to go through a process that cannot be done overnight. He said he has only been in office for 88 days.
“We do our own pace in our country. This is our country not their country, not Khan’s country, not the prosecutor’s country,” he said. “If they want to put our people in jail, there has to be a reason for it. And there has to be due process first.”
Remulla also pushed back against Khan’s finding that the investigations do not cover high-ranking officials and do not go to the extent of investigating if there is indeed a state policy of killings.
“It’s so easy to posit a theory but very hard to prove it, so we have to work on each case individually, in accordance with the evidence gathered…You want us to speculate on who caused what and who did what? Our job in the Department of Justice is not to speculate. Our job is to establish facts to prove a case,” he said.
At several points during the presscon, Remulla slammed the ICC and Khan himself for seemingly interfering in the Philippines’ probes.
“They cannot run roughshod over our system and say you're a lousy country and you cannot do what we want you to do. Are they dictating on us on what we should do as a country? I hope that the ICC will know that Mr. Khan is doing them a great disservice by putting a challenge to our system,” he said.
“So the unfortunate thing here is, here comes a foreigner who thinks that he knows the Philippines more than we do, who thinks it is so easy to run the government from our side of the fence, because madali kasing mag miron, madaling magturo , madaling pumuna, madalingmagmatyag at magsabi ng yung magpuna, pero ikaw ang umupo sa kinalalgyan ng mga nagtratrabaho anu ang iyong gagawin kapag ikaw ang naririto?,” he asked.
Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, former chief of the Philippine National Police, echoed Remulla’s line.
“Ano siya, hilo?,” he said, referring to Khan, while chuckling.
“Siya mag-insist, di ba? Kayo mismo tanungin ko, you are witness to what is happening in this country. Meron ba tayong crimes against humanity na nangyayari dito? Wala naman. Bakit siya mag-insist? He is not a part of the Philippine government, he is not a part of the Philippine jurisdiction. Bakit siya nag-iinsist na makialam sa problema natin dito?,” he asked.
Dela Rosa is considered the chief architect and implementer of Duterte’s drug war.
He oversaw the start of a bloody campaign that saw more than 6,000 drug suspects killed in police operations, based on official figures, although human rights groups place the figure at around 30,000.
By his own admission, he considers himself the number 2 suspect in the ICC probe although the ICC has yet to identify any individual for indictment.
LAWYER: ICC KEEN ON PURSUING PH PROBE
But for a lawyer who represents some of the drug war victims before the ICC, the Philippine government’s insistence the justice system is working in the country is not enough.
“The justice system is functioning but the problem is the cases are not going to court by themselves. There has to be someone to move the 6,000 plus cases to the courts. From the looks of it, there's no systematic clear system for all of these investigations,” Kristina Conti told ANC.
With the ICC Prosecutor’s recent filing, Conti is optimistic the ICC probe will move forward.
“It tells us that, fairly, the ICC is still intent and keen on pursuing this investigation. If there were any indications prior that they are moving towards Europe or they're looking at other situations, well, now it's clear that the Philippines still is a priority,” she said.
Based on the ICC Registry’s latest filing with the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber, the ICC has received 8 new representations from victims in the Philippines, which it assessed to be “falling inside the temporal, territorial and material scope of the Situation.”
While the representations are confidential, they refer to views on ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan's request to resume the ICC probe on the Philippine situation, in compliance w/ the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber’s order.
The ICC, in August 2021, received 204 victim representations from 1,530 individuals and 1,050 families, which "overwhelmingly supported the opening of the investigation.”
The victim representations will help the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber decide whether or not to resume the probe on the Philippines.