Is the Department of Justice (DOJ) prepared to drag President Rodrigo Duterte into its reinvestigation of more than 5,000 deaths in police anti-drug operations?
It should be, United Nations Special Rapporteur for summary executions Agnes Callamard said at a virtual forum held by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) on Friday, January 29.
"[The panel] must not just focus on those who pulled the trigger, but also on those who emboldened to pull the trigger.... [There should be] no limit on who shall be included in that review, from the President to police commissioners below and in between," Callamard said.
Callamard said the Philippine government must agree to a benchmark of what should be done in order to say that there is accountability for all the killings.
Addressing the issue of who emboldened the killings "is one of the most important benchmark," said Callamard. (READ: Shoot to kill? Duterte's statements on killing drug users)
"Is the review panel prepared to tackle incitement, to tackle those who have repeatedly said, I have your back to kill while in uniform? It must be prepared to integrate into its review the systems the leadership at the highest level that has allowed for that policy," Callamard said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the "panel will consider all relevant issues."
Pressed if the investigators of the review will actively pursue the angle of whether there was incitement to kill, Guevarra said: "Whenever appropriate or necessary, the question may be asked. We’ll leave the discretion to the person actually conducting the investigation.
Guevarra had earlier said that it has submitted a partial report of the drug war review to Duterte. The DOJ has not yet released its report to the public.
Guevarra said the Philippine National Police (PNP) had asked for a copy of the partial report so they could be given an opportunity to comment.
"We will furnish the PNP a copy next week. We will give them a few days to go over it," Guevarra said.
Callamard said that firing cops involved in those killings is nowhere near a benchmark for accountability.
"Being dismissed if you killed people? That's not acceptable. It has got to be a judicial response, a proper acknowledgment of the wrong being done. They need to be reviewed by the proper court of law," said Callamard.
Guevarra said that part of the review will look into investigative and prosecutorial gaps that left the cases of killings cold.
Callamard said she is "placing a lot of hope in the ICC (International Criminal Court)."
ICC can issue summons and arrest orders against leaders if it finds merit to do so.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she has found "reasonable basis to believe" that crimes against humanity were committed in the war on drugs. But she withheld announcing whether she will open the formal phase of investigation, which is dependent on whether the Philippine system is doing enough to prosecute the killings.
Callamard said that if Bensouda were to exclude "tactical considerations" and just focus on the merits, an investigation should surely proceed.
Callamard said she was "mortified, angry and revolted" at the October 2020 resolution of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council that only offered technical assistance to the Philippines – considered a soft stance as advocates like her had pushed for an independent UN probe.
When the UNHRC meets for its next session in two weeks, Callamard said the DOJ must have at least presented clear benchmarks or a clear timeline for those benchmarks.
A global coalition has recently launched an unofficial investigation into the killings, and its findings would be submitted to the ICC.
Callamard said this kind of pressure works.
The Philippine case comes amid a pivotal moment for the ICC as it works through its caseload, the transition to a new prosecutor in February, and an existential crisis of proving its capability to provide meaningful justice.
During Friday's forum, Callamard also called for the dropping of charges against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, and the release of detained Senator Leila de Lima, saying that the Philippine government should celebrate and recognize independent journalists and human rights defenders instead of targeting them. – Rappler.com