ICC pre-trial chamber authorizes PH drug war probe

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The International Criminal Court's pre-trial chamber authorized on Wednesday the start of the investigation on the country's controversial war on drugs. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) — The International Criminal Court's pre-trial chamber on Wednesday authorized the start of the investigation into the Duterte administration’s controversial drug war.

According to the Court's 41-page decision, it has allowed "the commencement of the investigation into the Situation in the Philippines, in relation to crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court allegedly committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 November 2011 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the so-called 'war on drugs' campaign."

The document stated that the Chamber found reasonable basis to proceed with the investigation in relation to the crime of murder during the drug war from July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019. The Prosecutor estimated that the number of civilians killed in the campaign ranged from 12,000 to 30,000 within that period.

"[A]ccording to the available information, the so-called 'war on drugs' campaign did not incorporate any formal, reviewable decision-making system, and did not afford interested and affected persons a serious opportunity to participate in the process, or to contest the claims against them," the decision read.

The 2011-2019 time frame also covers similar crimes allegedly done in the Davao region from November 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016. This includes information on the so-called "Davao Death Squad" which allegedly involved law enforcement units, the Chamber said. It added that it has information there were 385 victims of extrajudicial killings in Davao from 2011 to 2015.

The Chamber said it reviewed 204 victims' representations, adding 94% of the victims were in favor of the investigation.

The Prosecutor also cited examples of killings and planting of evidence - including the case of Norberto Maderal and another individual during a buy-bust operation in Navotas City on October 19, 2016.

"[P]ersons were targeted based on their inclusion of lists of persons alleged to be involved with illegal drugs, but those lists were arbitrarily drawn up," the Chamber's decision noted. "Further, it appears that non-state actors, or vigilantes, were significantly involved in the so-called 'war on drugs' campaign, with the support of the Philippine security forces."

It noted that President Rodrigo Duterte himself encouraged extrajudicial killings against alleged drug dealers and users both during his campaign for the presidency and after he became chief executive.

"Thus, the Chamber emphasizes that...the so-called 'war on drugs' campaign cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation, and the killings discussed above neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation," the document stated. "Rather, the available material indicates that an attack against the civilian population."

While the Philippines withdrew from the Rome Statute as of March 17, 2019, the ICC said it retains jurisdiction over the alleged crimes conducted while the country was a State Party until that date.

A step towards justice, accountability

In separate tweets, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares said the probe is a major step towards achieving justice for the victims and their families and holding those guilty accountable.

“To Duterte and his cohorts, this is another step closer to prison," said Trillanes, a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.

This statement was echoed by human rights group Karapatan, adding that the view of the ICC pre-trial chamber also reaffirms the views of the victims.

Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said they hope the investigation is the “beginning of the end to impunity.”

“No one should be invincible and infallible. There is always a time for everything,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rise Up lawyer Kristina Conti committed to double their efforts in assisting the ICC in gathering pieces of evidence to speed up the investigation and eventually reach a trial.

CNN Philippines Justice Senior Correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.