THE HAGUE - The country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) will not stop the international community from holding President Rodrigo Duterte accountable for rights abuses, according to human rights advocates here.
In a statement, Filipinos Against Tyranny and Corruption (FACT)-Netherlands said: “Duterte is totally mistaken to assume that withdrawing support of the ICC will stop Filipinos and the international community from making him and his enablers accountable for the gross human rights violations. The Philippine judicial system, weak as it is, gasps for relevance. Hope lies though in small victories – as in the case of the murder of 17-year old Kian delos Santos.”
The group was referring to the conviction of police officers behind the slay of Caloocan City teen Delos Santos in a drug raid. The verdict, handed down in November last year, was the first involving a killing under Duterte's war on drugs.
The group along with other human rights advocates staged a rally in front of the ICC last Saturday, March 16, the eve of the effectivity of the withdrawal of the Philippines from the international tribunal.
On March 17, 2018, the Philippines deposited a written notification of withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the Court's founding treaty, with the United Nations Secretary-General. It was received by the ICC on March, 19, 2018.
Duterte had ordered the country's withdrawal from the tribunal last year after it started an examination into allegations of mass killings in his drug war.
In a press release on March 20, 2018, the ICC said “a withdrawal has no impact on on-going proceedings or any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective; nor on the status of any judge already serving at the Court.”
According to FACT, Duterte's unilateral decision to pull the Philippines out of the Rome Statute, “unmasks his intention to avoid culpability for his crimes and the human rights violations committed during his regime.”
“His war on drugs has resulted in more than 25,000 unsolved murders of mostly impoverished citizens, including over 100 children. While he promised to wipe out the drug problem within three months of his presidency, the drug problem remains and none of the big drug lords have been prosecuted. Many from different walks of life have been killed and impunity reigns,” the statement said.
Filipino human rights advocates here called for the ICC to expedite the preliminary examination of the Duterte administration's alleged crimes in the drug war. They laid slippers and shoes leading to the entrance of the ICC to symbolize victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
“We are gathered here in front of the ICC for one common goal, to seek justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Every day that the brutal campaign against drugs continues, the body count swells and impunity reigns,” said rally organizer Bridget Infante.
Despite the stormy weather last Saturday, the protesters stood in front of the ICC building for two hours, chanted and sang nationalistic songs.
Icai Enriquez, a member of FACT-Netherlands who brought her baby and husband to the protest site, held a placard that read: “Children are not collateral damage.”
“Duterte has not only committed a crime against the victims. There are a lot of women, wives, mothers, children and families who are left behind and the crimes against humanity doesn’t mean only that somebody has to die. It has affected the next generations of Filipinos. It has affected the culture. It has affected how children now see the world. You can see in the news that children now have become more prone to seeing violence and they have become numb to seeing people dead people in the news,” said Enriquez.
Marlon Lacsamana, who admitted that he voted for Duterte in 2016, said the Philippine membership was 10 years of hard work before it became a party to the Rome Statute.
“This president was voted by people like me but it should be clear that not everyone who voted for him agrees with what he is doing now. We voted for him because of the promises he made such as ending contractualization and more employment so that OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) will no longer work abroad. But these are all failed promises. We are here because we are not blind or deaf for the complaints of the Filipinos in our country,” he said.
The protesters said despite being based abroad, they are not numb to what is happening in their home country and that they would continue to advocate for accountability and call for the international community’s action.
“Duterte may have, for now, avoided the ICC, but there remain many avenues for action and patches of hope. Towards these we act. The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” FACT-NL said in a statement.
The Duterte administration has many times defended the drug war, saying suspects slain in police operations had resisted arrest.