ICC authorizes prosecutor to resume probe into PH drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) — The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) pre-trial chamber on Friday authorized the resumption of investigation into the controversial drug war in the Philippines.

Over a year after it halted the inquiry, the ICC said it is not convinced that the Philippine government is “making a real or genuine effort” to conduct probes and criminal prosecutions regarding the matter.

“Following a careful analysis of the materials provided by the Philippines, the Chamber is not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations that would warrant a deferral of the Court’s investigations on the basis of the complementarity principle,” it said.

After examining materials submitted by the ICC prosecutor, the government and victims’ observations, the chamber concluded that initiatives done by the government “do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation.”

For one, the ICC noted that while there have been some steps taken, these only primarily concern low-ranking enforcement personnel.

In September 2021, the chamber approved the start of an investigation into the crimes allegedly committed from November 2011 to March 2019 in the context of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

This time frame covers extrajudicial killings reportedly carried out in the Davao region by the "Davao Death Squad," which allegedly involved law enforcement units.

In November 2021, however, the international body temporarily suspended its probe, following a request from the Philippine government.

The government maintained that the ICC may only exercise jurisdiction where national legal systems fail to do so, saying this is "certainly not the case in the Philippines."

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s initial request to reopen the investigation in 2022 was also rejected by the current administration, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declaring that the country has no intentions of rejoining the international body. 

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla previously pointed out that the Philippines is not obliged to formally respond to the ICC as it already withdrew during Duterte’s term, effective March 2019.

ICC said that the conclusion to continue the probe does not stop the Philippines from offering other information to help the prosecution or the chamber in its decisions.

“This conclusion does not preclude the Philippines from providing material in the future in order for the Prosecution, or the Chamber, to determine inadmissibility of the investigation or of any actual case, if and when needed,” it said.

PH to appeal decision

The Marcos administration will exhaust legal remedies to counter the resumption of the probe, including by elevating the matter to the ICC appeals chamber, said Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra.

In a statement, he stressed that the country’s domestic investigative and judicial processes “should take precedence.”

“We can show that despite structural and resource limitations in our legal system, it is still a well-functioning system that yields positive results in its own time,” he said.

Remulla meanwhile told reporters that while the government is still open to a dialogue with the ICC, it “will not accept impositions.”

“Definitely, I do not welcome this move of theirs, and I will not welcome them to the Philippines unless they make clear that they will respect us in this regard,” the Justice Secretary said. “I will not stand for any of these antics that will tend to question our sovereignty, our status as a sovereign country. We will not accept that.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it defers to the Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor General on the appropriate action regarding any legal or procedural issues raised by the pre-trial chamber.

“If necessary, the Department stands ready to make appropriate representations through our Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands,” the DFA said.

For the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), the ICC investigation is the only “credible avenue for justice” for the drug war’s victims and their families.

During Duterte's term, government monitoring platform RealNumbersPH showed that over 6,000 people died in anti-illegal drug operations.

Local and international human rights organizations, however, estimate an even higher tally of between 12,000 and 30,000.

“As the court’s judges agreed, Philippine authorities are not ‘undertaking relevant investigations’ into these crimes or ‘making a real or genuine effort’ to carry these investigations out," HRW Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson said.

"The ICC offers a path forward to fill the accountability vacuum,” he added.