MANILA (UPDATE)— The International Criminal Court's (ICC) decision to suspend its investigation into the Duterte administration's bloody drug war is part of the tribunal's due process, with advocates saying the investigation could possibly resume despite the government's deferral request.
The Philippine government in early November, through Ambassador to the Netherlands J. Eduardo Malaya, requested the Office of the Prosecutor to defer to the country's own investigation into the President's flagship campaign.
Malaya cited the Department of Justice's matrix on 52 cases involving deaths in the drug war last month. The country's democratic institutions, he said, are also working as part of "due process."
The ICC said this week "the prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request" of the Philippine government.
But former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of President Rodrigo Duterte's fiercest critics, said the ICC would find out in the coming months whether the findings are "genuine."
"This is just part of the ICC’s due process to determine if the government’s EJK investigation is genuine, but we all know that it is not... we should expect it to resume its investigation," said Trillanes.
"More importantly, with the deferment request, the Duterte admin formally recognized ICC’s jurisdiction over it, which is a total reversal of their earlier assertions," he added.
House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate reminded the government that ICC's decision is just temporary, as the ICC prosecutor would "continue to evaluate the merit of the case."
The House lawmaker also urged the ICC to continue its investigation
"The so-called suspension is merely part of the ICC procedure to afford due process to the Philippine government- the same due process denied to thousands of ordinary Filipinos slaughtered in Duterte's war on drugs," Zarate said.
"We join the lawyers and relatives of the victims of this dirty drug war in entreating the ICC Prosecutor to deny any such deferral request and, instead, continue with the conduct of a full-blown investigation into the drug-war atrocities," he said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), meanwhile, criticized the government for its deferral request and also said its claim of investigating the drug war is "barely true."
"Only 52 out of thousands of killings are in early stages of investigation. Despite many clear cut cases of murder, no charges have even been filed," HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said in a statement.
"To stave off ICC action, the government is claiming that existing domestic mechanisms afford citizens justice or access to justice. This is an absurd claim," Adams added.
Trillanes, Zarate, and Adams told the ICC to "see through" the government's argument, which they deem as false.
"In a few months, the ICC will also find out that it is just part of the cover up of Duterte," the former lawmaker said.
Sen. Leila De Lima, meanwhile, expressed dismay with the ICC's decision.
De Lima, detained because of supposedly fabricated drug charges, described the development as "most disappointing."
"We still hope the ICC Prosecutor does not fall into the trap of letting those guilty of the crimes dispose of the evidence under the guise of being allowed to investigate their own crimes," De Lima said.
But she echoed other rights advocates' sentiments that the suspension was only meant to further look into the "scope" of the deferral request.
Aside from this, she also told the tribunal that the DOJ's own investigation into the government's anti-narcotics drive would not "result in the meaningful and genuine prosecution of those guilty of the crimes against humanity."
"[S]imply because it is these same government authorities who allowed these crimes to continue unabated by not prosecuting the killers. They are also not expected to because they directly receive their orders from the very architect of the mass murders, President Duterte," the lawmaker said.
On Friday, Centerlaw Philippines opposed the Philippine government's call for a deferral, and described government arguments in the letter as false.
The non-profit organization called on the ICC to continue its probe on drug war killings.
PH GOVERNMENT 'WELCOMES' ICC MOVE
In a statement, acting Malacañang Spokesperson Karlo Nograles welcomed the ICC decision, but reiterated that the international court "has no jurisdiction" over the country anymore.
This does not also mean that the suspension would prevent the government from communicating with the ICC.
"We welcome the judiciousness of the new ICC prosecutor, who has deemed it fit to give the matter a fresh look and we trust that the matter will be resolved in favor of the [exoneration] of our government and the recognition of the vibrancy of our justice system," said Nograles.
"The government's communication to the ICC was conditioned on the fact that in making that communication the Philippine government was not waiving its position regarding the ICC's lack of jurisdiction," he added.
The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber in August gave its green light for the ICC Prosecutor to conduct a formal probe on the drug war killings in the Philippines.
According to Article 18(6) of the Roman Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, "pending a ruling by the Pre-Trial Chamber, or at any time when the Prosecutor has deferred an investigation under this article, the Prosecutor may, on an exceptional basis, seek authority from the Pre-Trial Chamber to pursue necessary investigative steps for the purpose of preserving evidence where there is a unique opportunity to obtain important evidence or there is a significant risk that such evidence may not be subsequently available."
Officially, 6,200 drug suspects were killed in what police said were sting operations where suspects resisted arrest since the start of the Duterte administration.