ICC told to proceed with probe on PH killings
DOJ drug review panel finishes probe on 52 cases from PNP
MANILA — Lawyers and families of drug war victims in the Philippines are encouraged by recent developments in Sudan on the possible handover of its former leader Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court after more than a decade of evading arrest.
“That’s a very, very big positive development,” former Rep. Neri Colmenares, who also chairs the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the lawyers of drug war victims, said in an online forum Monday.
“[W]hile he was the president of Sudan, he kept on saying that…just like Duterte, ‘You cannot reach me.’ But then a new government came in and now, of course, he was already under arrest. He will now be given… the custody is given to the ICC,” Colmenares said of Bashir.
Bashir is a former military officer who ousted Sudan’s government in 1989 and ruled the country for 30 years until he, too, was deposed by military officers in April 2019.
He was indicted by the ICC in 2009 for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over the 2003 Darfur conflict which saw 300,000 people killed and 2.5 million displaced.
News of his turnover to the ICC came last week following newly-installed ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s visit to the capital Khartoum, where he announced the ICC will set up an office in the country to gather more evidence against Bashir.
Sudan is also set to join the Rome Statute which created the ICC.
For more than a decade, Bashir had been able to fly to other countries that refused to enforce the warrant for his arrest issued by the ICC in 2009.
It took his fall from power and a new ruling elite for him to be arrested.
Colmenares pointed out that there are 2 ways by which Duterte could be arrested should the ICC decide to proceed with the case and issue a warrant of arrest against him: either he is arrested in another country party to the ICC, or a new administration allows his arrest.
“Either way, the al-Bashir and the Sudan development is positive for us because it only shows, and maybe President Duterte is already aware of this, that despite all his bluster, despite all his promises of non-cooperation, he cannot control the tide," said Colmenares.
"Once a new government steps in, then he could be arrested and transferred to the ICC."
Colmenares is optimistic Khan will exert the same effort of putting up an office here in the country should the ICC decide to push through with its probe on the killings in the Philippines.
“It’s not easy for us to travel there [The Hague, The Netherlands]. Hopefully, if the ICC will set up an office here, of course, to investigate, make themselves accessible to the victims, then it will really, really make it easier for the victims, not only to access judicial proceedings in the ICC but also in their quest for justice,” he said.
NUPL’s Kristina Conti, assisting counsel for the group Rise Up, said it has become a recent practice of the ICC to establish field offices and her group is preparing for that possibility.
Rise Up has two bases at the moment — one in Manila and another in Cebu.
FAMILIES OF DRUG WAR VICTIMS TELL ICC TO PROCEED WITH PROBE
Rise Up, an organization that supports and helps families of drug war victims, was among the groups that submitted communications to the ICC stressing the need for a full-blown probe.
On Friday, it facilitated the submission of victims representation forms to the ICC where victims would indicate their thoughts about the possible probe to help the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber decide whether to authorize a full probe.
Colmenares said “many” filed from all over the country, although the NUPL and Rise Up could not disclose exactly just how many out of security concerns.
“It is more than the original 7 na nag-file ng (that filed) communication complaint, originally noong (in) 2018. So nalampasan yun (It's more than that),” Colmenares said.
Other groups also filed their own victims representation forms which were due on August 13, almost 2 months since the ICC announced the request for ICC probe.
“Kung ilan man ang sinubmit namin, lahat yun, they want an ICC investigation to proceed. Some are willing to participate in the trial, including yung 7 namin (including the 7 from our group). Lalo lang nabuo sa loob nila na, 'Oo, kayang-kaya ko i-present'. In fact, for the submissions, all of them wanted to give evidence,” Conti said.
(All those the we submitted want an ICC investigation to proceed... They are more convinced that they could present their case.)
“Majority want Duterte investigated. Sinasabi nila, si Duterte ang may kasalanan, si Duterte ang puno’t dulo,” she said, adding that this applied to all types of killings — police killings, vigilante killings, found dead bodies, and even those who died in police custody.
(They said, Duterte is the culprit, Duterte is the main reason.)
Some victims, she said, however expressed concerns about the integrity of or the lack of records.
She noted that in 2017, a Caloocan police station caught fire and along with it, police records perished.
Four years ago on Monday in Caloocan City, 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos was killed in what police said was a legitimate law enforcement operation. But his family, some witnesses and relevant government agencies dispute the police claim and cited indications of abuse of power.
Over a year after the incident that triggered public outcry and scrutiny of Duterte's drug war, three policemen were found guilty for the murder of Delos Santos.
“Despite the urgent calls for justice and to the stop the killings four years ago when Kian was murdered, Duterte continues to wage his murderous campaigns such as the drug war — and the killings and abuses have worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of families continue to suffer the grief of loss as they cry out for justice, and we join them in calling on the ICC to prosecute Duterte for his crimes and atrocities against the Filipino people,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
UPDATE ON DOJ-LED DRUG WAR REVIEW
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday the DOJ drug war review panel has finished its report on the 52 drug war cases forwarded to them by the Philippine National Police.
Guevarra said he is currently going over the report but will have to “discuss with PNP” if it will be publicly released.
Will DOJ drug war review findings be released to families of drug war victims?
“All these matters will be discussed by the review panel. If criminal investigation is warranted, witnesses including family members will be sought and called upon to provide information," Guevarra said.
The DOJ’s review of 52 cases from the PNP is separate from its earlier review of about 328 cases of drug operations out of the more than 5,000 cases Guevarra promised to review in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council in June last year.
But no cases have been filed yet against erring cops, and a copy of the partial report has never been publicized, with the DOJ deferring to the Office of the President whether a copy will be released.
And while both the DOJ and the PNP have indicated openness to the review of drug war cases, Malacanang has vowed it will never cooperate with any ICC investigation.
For Colmenares, the DOJ’s review of drug war cases and the PNP’s release of records after 5 years is a “fatal admission.”
“I’m sure, the ICC knows, that unless the DOJ has the reports of the investigation, there would be no prosecution, so that shows the unwillingness in fact. And the PNP is not even willing to give all the incident reports. So that adds fuel to the assertion of the victims that they cannot have justice here — the willingness and the ability of the justice system is not there,” he said.
Conti, for her part, said the recent events in Kabul, Afghanistan where the Taliban has now entered the presidential palace should be a warning that “the only permanent thing in life is change.”
“Bilog ang mundo kaya kung nasa taas man ngayon si Duterte at feeling niya ay siya ay invincible, maaabutan at maaabutan pa rin siya ng kamay ng hustisya, anuman ang itsura nito at anuman ang paraan,” she said.
(The world is round. If Duterte is in power now and feels he is invincible, the hands of justice will still catch him regardless of appearance and manner.)
“The ICC is just one of the many options available to victims of human rights violations and abuses during his term. And rest assured na (that) we, as lawyers, will be behind them kung saan man nila gustong pumunta (wherever they want to go),” she added.
Duterte, 76, said during his last State of the Nation Address last month that he would "never" deny his kill threats against narcotics peddlers, and he said the ICC "can record" his statement even as he refuses to submit to the possible ICC inquiry.
The war on drugs is Duterte's signature program and he defends it fiercely, especially from critics such as Western leaders and institutions which he says do not care about the Philippines.
More than 6,000 people have been killed in over 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to official data. Human rights groups estimate the number of dead could be several times higher.
In 2019, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC after it launched a preliminary examination into the war on drugs. But the court could still investigate crimes committed while the country was a member, ICC's former chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said.