war on drugs

Cops, others urged to testify vs ‘most responsible’ in drug war killings as ICC probe resumes

Jodesz Gavilan

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Cops, others urged to testify vs ‘most responsible’ in drug war killings as ICC probe resumes

CRIME SCENE. A police line is drawn near a crime scene in Manila in 2016. Rappler file photo

LeAnne Jazul

The only high-profile cop to publicly provide first-hand information on Rodrigo Duterte's involvement in killings is former Davao City policeman Arturo Lascañas

MANILA, Philippines – Lawyers and families of victims on Friday, January 27, urged state forces and officials to come out and testify against the top minds involved in the bloody anti-illegal drug campaign under then-president Rodrigo Duterte.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a group composed of families left behind, released this call as the International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial chamber resumes the investigation into the drug war killings.

Apela namin na lumantad ang mga pulis, ahente, asset, o tao na alam ang sistema at pagkakawing-kawing ng mga direktiba, at tumestigo laban sa mga ultimong salarin,” lawyers Neri Colmenares and Kristina Conti said on behalf of the two groups.

“Nakabantay kami sa mga ‘ika nga ay ‘gawalang guilty’ – pagsisinungaling, panlilihis, pagtuturuan, pagsisihan, pagwasak ng ebidensiya, pananakot ng biktima at saksi,” they said.

(We appeal to cops, agents, assets, or anyone who knows the drug war system and directives to testify against those most responsible. We will be vigilante against moves by the guilty, including lying, deceiving, blaming, destroying of evidence, or even harassing of victims and witnesses.)

The pre-trial chamber on Thursday evening Dutch time, January 26, announced that it was “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.”

This move means that the office of ICC prosecutor Karim Khan can continue his investigation. He is also expected to seek more evidence that could potentially request for the issuance of summons or warrants to those involved in the drug war.

It is not clear who will be the subject of possible summons or warrants, but the ICC is usually interested in high-ranking officials. Meanwhile, the investigation will also cover the killings in Davao City that occurred from 2011 to 2016, when Duterte was mayor and then vice mayor, and his daugher, now-Vice President Sara Duterte, was mayor.

The most high-profile insider that came out and gave firsthand information on Duterte’s involvement in killings is former Davao City policeman Arturo Lascañas, whom the ICC has granted limited immunity.

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NUPL and Rise UP called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to cooperate with the investigation, and to initiate the process of the Philippines’ return to the ICC as a member-state. Duterte unilaterally withdrew the country from ICC in 2018.

Bagaman may kaba at takot dahil sa patuloy na kawalang pananagutan ng mga akusada, makikipagtulungan kami sa ICC dahil ito ang pinakapatas na pagkakataon para makakuha ng hustisya ang mga biktima,” the groups said.

Mas mainam din na maging aktibong kalahok tayong lahat,” they added.

(Despite fear because of the continued culture of impunity among the accused, we shall be cooperating with the ICC because it is the right time for families of victims to get justice. It is important that everyone engages with the proceedings.)

Official government data shows that at least 6,252 people have died at the hands of the police during anti-illegal drug operations as of May 31, 2022, a month before Duterte left office in June. This tally does not include victims of vigilante-style killings, which human rights groups estimate to pull the number up to around 30,000.

Documents obtained by Rappler show that the Philippine National Police (PNP) already recorded 7,884 deaths between July 1, 2016 and August 31, 2020.

Families continue to face challenges in seeking justice for their loved ones slain in the violent war on drugs, including being denied access to the most basic documents from the police. They see the ICC as their only hope for justice.

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– Rappler.com

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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 impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.