International Criminal Court

Inaction on Davao Death Squad part of push to resume ICC probe

Lian Buan
Inaction on Davao Death Squad part of push to resume ICC probe

OUTGOING PRESIDENT. President Rodrigo Duterte at the Hugpong ng Pagbabago - Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod Miting de Avance in Davao City, May 6, 2022.

Malacañang Photo

The ICC Registry also accredits Filipino lawyer Kristina Conti as assistant to counsel. Conti represents victims of the drug war.
Inaction on Davao Death Squad part of push to resume ICC probe

MANILA, Philippines – The failure of Philippine authorities to satisfactorily look into killings by the alleged Davao Death Squad is part of the reason why International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan has requested the Court’s pre-trial chamber (PTC) to reopen investigation into the Philippines.

“The Government of the Philippines has provided no information whatsoever about past or ongoing criminal investigations or prosecutions relating to alleged crimes committed in Davao between 2011 and 2016…. No national proceedings have been identified concerning alleged crimes in the Davao region in 2011-2016,” said Khan in his request filed with the PTC on Friday, June 24.

The PTC authorized in September 2021 an investigation into killings by the alleged Davao Death Squad while Duterte was vice mayor (2011-2013) and mayor (2013-2016) of the city; and the killings in his drug war as president from 2016-2019. The period 2011 to 2019 is when the Philippines was a member of the ICC, until Duterte unilaterally pulled out as a response to the investigation.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has deferred commenting for now and told Rappler on Monday, June 27, that “we will meet with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) later today.”

Acting Presidential Spokesperson Martin Andanar has not responded yet to Rappler’s request for comment.

Khan reiterated that part of the investigation, as authorized by the PTC, is the anaylsis that “hundreds of killings committed during 2011-2016 in the city and region of Davao bore a striking resemblance to the later war on drugs killings nationwide from 1 July 2016 onward.”

“The Government of the Philippines’ failure to identify any investigative steps or prosecutions whatsoever with regard to these allegations alone justifies authorizing the resumption of the Court’s investigation,” said Khan.

The PTC must approve Khan’s request first before an investigation can be fully resumed, but Khan had said before thta they continued to receive evidence either on the Davao Death Squad or the war on drugs.

Witnesses

The ICC has already given limited immunity to former Davao City cop Arturo Lascañas, who has confessed to carrying out Duterte’s alleged kill orders to the Davao Death Squad. Lascañas is in hiding, but as an insider witness, he has access to the ICC’s witness protection program.

Lascañas’ affidavit to the ICC details what he knows about dumping bodies of their victims to grave sites and burying grounds.

In 2012, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) under then-chairperson Leila de Lima released a resolution recommending to the Office of the Ombudsman that it investigate Duterte’s “possible administrative and criminal liability” for the killings under his watch. Vice president-elect Sara Duterte was mayor from 2011-2013.

But little is known of what happened to the CHR resolution. The Duterte government pooled forces in 2016 to jail De Lima. The opposition leader has been in jail for five years on charges of conspiracy to commit drug trading.

That De Lima is in jail is among the facts cited by the group Rise Up when it opposed the deferral of the investigation in 2021. Rise Up is a group composed of victims of the war on drugs and their relatives.

“The Justice Department and the National Prosecution Service have become instruments used by the President against his perceived enemies. A most prominent case is that of jailed opposition Senator Leila De Lima,” said Rise Up in a submission last November.

Kristina Conti, lawyer of Rise Up, has just been accredited by the ICC Registry as an assistant to counsel.

The accreditation “signifies that [Conti] has met the qualifications necessary to be included in the list of persons who are eligible to be chosen by defense counsel ot legal representative of victims…but [her] inclusion in the list no way denotes de facto appointment or assignment to assist in the representation of accused or victims before the court,” said the ICC’s Counsel Support Section in its letter to Conti sent on June 17.

As of the latest list on its website, former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque remains to be the sole Filipino accredited to be counsel in the ICC.

‘Don’t fall for pretend accountability’

Khan also said in his recent request that the Philippine actions “fail to inquire into the alleged State or organizational policy material to the alleged crimes, or the factors which suggest that such crimes were not committed spontaneously, randomly, or in arbitrary fashion.”

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings (EJK), said she had known since 2019 that the domestic actions were purely administrative.

“We had established since 2019 that the so-called investigations into the 1000s EJK were administrative in nature with very, very few exceptions. But the international community had fell for the pretend accountability,” said Callamard in a series of tweets.

The DOJ and the DFA had been involved in the UN Joint Human Rights Program, the operational project of the technical assistance offered by the UN Human Rights Council to address problems.

But like many in the human rights community, Callamard said the “technical assistance to the government failed to address the massive killings, sending dangerous messages that justice can be denied.”

“Enough time has been wasted. Justice should not wait longer…Let’s turn this shameful page. The ICC Prosecutor’s call must be turned into action,” said Callamard. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.