Senators weigh in on ICC finding 'basis to believe' crimes in Duterte drug war

Some senators on Tuesday, December 15, gave their reactions to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) finding of “reasonable basis” to believe crimes against humanity were committed in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

“It doesn't come as a surprise. It is a bit troubling though that it took them over 4 years of daily killings to find 'reasonable basis,’” said opposition senator Francis Pangilinan.

“Perhaps if they acted sooner, thousands of lives could have been saved,” said Pangilinan, who is the president of the Liberal Party.

“‘Reasonable basis’ is the understatement of the last 4 years,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, who is also with the opposition.

“Still, I strongly hope the recent findings of the International Criminal Court finally bring justice to the victims of this administration's brutal war on drugs. This report offers new hope for justice and humanity, as we continue to commemorate all those felled by bloody ‘tokhang,’” she added.

Hontiveros mentioned the case of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, who was killed by police in an anti-drug raid of his neighborhood in Caloocan City in August 2017. A Caloocan court found 3 cops guilty of Delos Santos’ murder.

“I continue to mourn for Kian delos Santos, whose appalling death ignited national outrage from various sectors. Let us not forget that our innocent youth, like Kian, are helpless victims of this administration’s disproportionate response to what is actually a public health concern,” Hontiveros said.

“ICC’s statement that they hope to open an investigation in the first half of 2021 is a welcome development for anyone fighting against human rights abuses in the Philippines. Exacting accountability for these extrajudicial killings has been a long time coming,” she added.

'Good as a press release and nothing more'

In a report released earlier on Tuesday, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office “anticipates reaching a decision” in the first half of 2021 on whether it would seek authorization to open an investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief and a seasoned investigator, pointed out the inconclusiveness of Bensouda’s statement.

“I’m not sure what the ICC prosecutor actually meant by ‘reasonable basis to believe.’ Under the ICC statute, reasonable grounds to believe is considered as an ‘unreasonably unclear evidentiary threshold,’” Lacson said in a statement.

The ICC prosecutor must first reach the “threshold” of proving that the Philippine criminal justice system is not functioning or had fallen short in prosecuting law enforcement agents who allegedly committed crimes against humanity in the drug war – if the international body is to grant permission to proceed with an investigation, Lacson pointed out.

“That said, in the realm of possibilities to prosecute the President for crimes against humanity, the statement of Prosecutor Bensouda may only be good as a press release and nothing more, at least at this point in time,” Lacson concluded.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, gave a brief comment.

“That’s what she believes. Some believe otherwise,” Sotto said, referring to Bensouda.

In its latest update, the #RealNumbersPH project counted 5,810 deaths in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016, to July 31, 2020.

The Philippine National Police, for its part, has already counted 7,884 deaths from July 1, 2016, to August 31, 2020, according to figures from its Directorate for Operations obtained by Rappler.

Human rights groups estimate at least 30,000 drug-related killings, including killings outside police operations, in Duterte’s drug war. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.