war on drugs

PH’s next move: Appeal ICC’s decision to resume probe into drug war killings

Jairo Bolledo

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PH’s next move: Appeal ICC’s decision to resume probe into drug war killings
Justice Secretary Remulla says the ICC is 'insulting' the Philippines, adding that the government is still unwilling to cooperate with the probe

MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra on Friday, January 27, said the Philippines will appeal the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to resume the investigation into drug war killings.

“While we have not received an official copy of this resolution, it is our intention to exhaust our legal remedies, more particularly elevating the matter to the ICC appeals chamber,” Guevarra, who was also Duterte’s former justice chief, told reporters on Friday.

The solicitor general, who serves as the government’s principal lawyer, added that the Philippines’ judicial system should prevail over that of the ICC: “We wish to emphasize that our own domestic investigative and judicial processes should take precedence, and we can show that despite structural and resource limitations in our legal system, it is still a well-functioning system that yields positive results in its own time.”

On Friday, the ICC moved its investigation to the warrants stage. The court’s pre-trial chamber authorized the resumption of the probe because it found the Philippine government’s intervention to the alleged killings unsatisfactory.

During the warrants stage, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s office will look for evidence to potentially request the court to issue either summons or warrants. The latest ICC information did not provide specific names, but former president Rodrigo Duterte and his allies like Senator Ronald dela Rosa, have been at the center of the probe for Davao Death Squad killings and thousands of drug war deaths.

PH’s next move: Appeal ICC’s decision to resume probe into drug war killings

In a press conference on Friday, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said the ICC is “insulting” the Philippines, adding that the government is still unwilling to cooperate with the probe.

“Well, they’re insulting us. With the many limitations as to our – to many of the things that we do in the country right now, the NBI is in the process of reorganizing, the modernization is pushing through, we’re about to hire 1,000 more agents. We are building capacity. It is a capacity building exercise that we’re doing,” Remulla said in response to a question about the ICC’s observation about the lack of vital information on drug war cases.

The justice secretary said he will not welcome the ICC in the Philippines “unless they make it clear that they will respect us in this regard.”

“They will have no compulsory process in the country. They will not even be empowered to issue subpoenas in the country. They have not even coordinated with us about it. So if they want to come in as a hostile government, as a hostile force, come in. But they cannot do that to us.”

On multiple occasions, both the administrations of Duterte and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have said they will not cooperate with the ICC. At one point, Remulla even said that Khan is doing the ICC a “disservice” for challenging the Philippine system. 

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How about Marcos?

Requests for a statement on the developments in the ICC have been ignored by the Palace. Malacañang was supposed to host both the justice department and interior department for a briefing on the developments in the ICC probe but the press briefing was eventually moved to the DOJ. 

But President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has made it clear that he has no intention of rejoining the ICC. Speaking to his wedding godchild and celebrity endorser Toni Gonzaga in September 2022, Marcos said a “whole system collapse” of government – particularly the judiciary and police – would be the only reason for the ICC to enter the Philippines. 

Senator Ronald dela Rosa earlier said his “future actions are dependent on the actions of this government,” while citing Marcos’ earlier pronouncements. Dela Rosa supported Marcos in the 2022 polls, sometimes campaigning alongside him as a campaign proxy for now-Vice President Sara Duterte.

What happens next?

A briefing provided by nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) provided the next things that might happen after the ICC decided to continue the probe. HRW said Khan’s office will now start the probe, adding that there is no strict timeline that the probe follows.

“It is really difficult to say and there are no strict timelines. In the past, it has varied from situation to situation: in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), it took almost two years between the opening of the investigation and the first arrest warrant; in Georgia it was almost six years,” the rights group said.

The HRW said that although the probe has already resumed, the trial will not happen soon because there is still a long process beginning from the warrants stage.

“First, the prosecutor needs to conduct his investigation; then he will request the judges to issue summons to appear or arrest warrants, which sometimes are sealed; the judges then have to analyze and issue them, and the suspects need to either surrender or be arrested.”

The rights group added: “Finally, before the beginning of an actual trial, there are pre-trial proceedings to confirm the charges against the accused persons.” – with reports from Bea Cupin/Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.