Trillanes, Sabio welcome Int’l Criminal Court preliminary examination of drug war killings

Jodesz Gavilan
Trillanes, Sabio welcome Int’l Criminal Court preliminary examination of drug war killings
The Commission on Human Rights says it is ready to assist in the process, and hopes that the police and justice department would fully cooperate as well

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and lawyer Jude Sabio welcomed the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to start “preliminary examinations” into the killings under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

“This development should jolt Duterte into realizing that he is not above the law,” Trillanes said. “More importantly, this is the first step for the victims’ families’ quest for justice.”

Sabio said he felt “elated and vindicated.”

“[Duterte’s] system of death squad killings since the Davao Death Squad (DDS) that he continued in the war on drugs will now be investigated by the ICC and justice will be done,” he said. 

On Thursday, Feburary 8, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the Philippine government had been informed of the ICC’s “preliminary examination,” which will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish that the case falls under its jurisdiction.

The ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor is acting on two communications filed by Sabio, Trillanes, and Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano in 2017, urging the court to “commit” Duterte and his senior officials to a trial while highlighting his various pronouncements regarding the killings of criminals, specifically suspected drug personalities.

Data from the government show that at least 3,987 individuals have been killed in the police’s anti-drug operations. The number of those killed vigilante-style is still highly contested – with groups such as the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) estimating the figure could be more than 12,000. (READ: The Impunity Series)

CHR ‘ready to cooperate’

The Office of the Prosecutor will now have to establish whether there are “genuine national proceedings” being conducted under the Philippine justice system.  (READ: What challenges will complaint vs Duterte face before ICC?)

Due to complementarity, the international court can only investigate if it sees that the Philippines does not or is “unwilling or unable to do so genuinely.” If the Office of the Prosecutor determines it has jurisdiction, itwill proceed to the actual investigation phase. 

The Commission on Human Rights said that “if requested,” it is ready to assist with the process of preliminary examination as the government is duty bound to fully cooperate with the ICC.

“In particular, we hope the authorities of our police and justice department will provide all relevant information for the successful conduct by the ICC of its preliminary examination,” CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon said.

Sabio, the lawyer of self-confessed Davao Death Squad hitman Edgar Matobato, expressed confidence that that they would “hurdle” the next big steps. 

“I am confident that based on my communication as well as that of Senator Trillanes and Representative Alejano, we will hurdle this first big step and hopefully a warrant of arrest will be issue by the ICC against Duterte and his cohorts,” Sabio said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque clarified on Thursday that the ICC move was “not a victory” for critics of the Duterte administration, since it was only at the preliminary examination stage. He said the decision by the prosecution is a “waste of the court’s time and resources.”  

If the complaint would prosper, the Palace official said that Duterte would be willing to face the ICC to “put the prosecutor on the stand and question him as to what prompted him to proceed with the case.” –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.