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MANILA, Philippines – Former president Rodrigo Duterte, through his former spokesperson Harry Roque, said he will not allow “foreigners” to judge him after the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it is resuming the probe into the drug war killings.
“Former President Duterte reiterates his position that he would never allow foreigners to sit in judgment of him as long as Philippine courts are willing and able to do so,” Roque said, adding that Duterte “shrugged off” the ICC’s latest move.
On Friday, the ICC moved its investigation to the warrants stage, which means its pre-trial chamber authorized the resumption of the probe because it was not satisfied with the Philippine government’s intervention in the alleged killings.
Duterte is at the center of the probe – both for the Davao Death Squad (DDS) killings and his bloody drug war implemented by the Philippine National Police. As Davao City mayor, the DDS flourished under Duterte, and became known for carrying out orders to kill people – including those that allegedly came from no other than Duterte.
Former cop, DDS member, and whistleblower Arturo Lascañas said in his affidavit that he “killed for Duterte.” Another important witness, Edgar Matobato, also a self-confessed DDS member, testified that Duterte instructed them to execute people.
Meanwhile, the government said there have been 6,252 people who have died at the hands of the police during anti-illegal drug operations between July 2016 and May 31, 2022 – under Duterte’s term. Human rights groups refute this, saying actual numbers could reach 30,000 if vigilante-style killings are included.
Roque said Duterte would submit himself to the “prosecution and judgment of any local court,” but will not subject himself to a foreign body. The former Palace spokesperson added Duterte is ready to face his accusers.
“But the former chief executive would never subject himself under the legal jurisdiction of any foreign body because it is an insult to the competence and impartiality of our functioning criminal justice system.”
The government has repeatedly claimed that the ICC, being an international body, has no jurisdiction over the Philippines. However, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan already refuted it and said there’s nothing in the Rome Statute that states the Philippines can “challenge the resumption of an investigation on jurisdictional or gravity grounds at this stage of proceedings.”
Although the Duterte administration unilaterally withdrew membership from the ICC, Article 127 of the Rome Statute states that all proceedings prior to the withdrawal remain valid – the same position taken by the Philippine Supreme Court.
In reality, even for high-profile drug war cases, justice has been elusive. Since 2016, there were only two significant convictions in the drug war cases: one for Kian delos Santos, where cops were convicted in 2018, and another for Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman, where cops were only convicted in 2022 of torture and planting of evidence.
The murder case of Arnaiz and De Guzman is still pending before a Navotas court, as of 2023 – six years after they were brutally killed.
The report recently published by the ICC also said that the domestic initiatives and proceedings “do not amount to tangible, concrete, and progressive investigative steps” in a way that mirrors the ICC’s probe. Khan also earlier called the DOJ’s drug war review a mere “desk review.”
Working justice system?
In his statement, Roque said he supports Duterte’s stand that the local justice system is working: “I support former President Duterte’s firm stand. Our domestic courts are willing and able to carry out fair proceedings vis-à-vis cases related to the war on drugs campaign.”
Roque also said the resumption of the ICC probe is a waste of resources, and that the ICC should focus on other countries like Ukraine. Roque added that Duterte has repeatedly urged the drug war victims to file a case before the local courts. Many have refused to come forward, fearful for their lives. (READ: Drug war widow: Why is Duterte still free, when our loved ones are dead?)
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who ran in 2022 promising to “continue” the supposed gains of the Duterte administration, has said that there are no plans to rejoin the ICC, citing the same reasons as Duterte.
“The ICC very simply is supposed to take action when a country no longer has a functioning judiciary, has no longer some…the organs of state, the police…. That condition does not exist in the Philippines. So I do not see why…what role ICC is going to play here in the Philippines,” Marcos had said in a sit-down interview with his wedding godchild and celebrity endorser Toni Gonzaga in September 2022.
Despite requests from media, the Palace has not issued a statement on the ICC’s most recent move.
Meanwhile, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, among the chief architects of Duterte’s “drug war,” said that his “future actions are depending on the actions of this government.”
Dela Rosa supported Marcos in the 2022 elections and often campaigned alongside him as one of Vice President Sara Duterte’s campaign substitutes. – with reports from Bea Cupin/Rappler.com