President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesmen have called his profusion of threats to kill drug suspects merely expressions of extreme frustration or his hardline stance on crime.
But International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosector Fatou Bensouda agreed with administration critics: Duterte’s threats point to a state policy to kill suspects before their alleged crimes can be prosecuted under the justice system.
In her request to the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to conduct a formal investigation into Duterte’s drug war, Bensouda treated Duterte’s public remarks as evidence that his government likely carried out crimes against humanity in the enforcement of the anti-drug campaign.
“The plethora of public statements made by Duterte and other Philippine government officials encouraging, supporting and, in certain instances, urging the public to kill suspected drug users and dealers also indicate a State policy to attack civilians,” she wrote on page 45 of the document.
Public remarks from mayorship to presidency
Bensouda traced Duterte’s kill threats from his time as mayor, the 2016 presidential campaign, and the weeks before he assumed the presidency.
Some of the remarks that stood out for the ICC prosecutor were Duterte’s warnings that “100,000” criminal suspects would be killed on his watch and his proposal to kill “five criminals a week.”
“When I become president, I’ll order the police and the military to find these people and kill them” was one of the remarks the ICC document quoted in full, taken from a Reuters news report dated May 13, 2016, or just a few days after Duterte won the elections.
Bensouda also noted Duterte’s calls to violence as president, particularly his appeal to Filipinos, in no less than his inaugural address, to kill drug addicts they know, and his September 2016 declaration that he would be “happy” to “slaughter” three million drug addicts.
The ICC prosecutor highlighted the fact that Duterte made many of these kill threats in front of soldiers and police, and that he made clear orders that they kill drug suspects.
One example is a speech in front of soldiers of the 10th Infantry Division in Compostela Valley, where Duterte said promotions waited for law enforcers who would “massacre” suspects.
“Mag-massacre kayo ng isang daan, isang daan din kayo, eh di pardon lahat kayo (Massacre 100 people, since you’re also 100, I’ll pardon all of you) – restore to full political and civil rights plus a promotion to boot,” Duterte said then.
Bensouda took seriously Duterte’s August 2016 “shoot-to-kill” order against “narcopoliticians,” or politicians included in his list of persons colluding with drug traffickers.
Adding to the impression that his government supported killings, said Bensouda, were Duterte’s remarks appearing to shield abusive police from accountability.
She mentioned specifically Duterte’s promise to protect cops involved in the slay of Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., who was killed in his jail cell in what the National Bureau of Investigation concluded was a “rubout.”
Echoed by other Philippine officials
The ICC official also noted that the President’s violent rhetoric was being echoed by other high-ranking government officials. She specifically mentioned former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and his February 2017 remark that drug suspects and criminals were “not humanity.”
These public remarks appearing to condone and encourage killings are just one of the many facets of the Duterte presidency that convinced Bensouda that there is basis to begin an investigation.
She also pointed to a consistent modus operandi in killings related to the drug war: the apparent participation of police and other state forces, consistent reports from eyewitnesses of abuses in police operations, and the failure of the government to prosecute perpetrators of extrajudicial killings.
Malacañang, meanwhile, slammed Bensouda’s request to investigate Duterte as “politically-motivated” and based on “hearsay” proffered by the President’s “enemies.”
Bensouda based much of her report on interviews with eyewitnesses and other sources, reports by civil society groups, and news articles. – Rappler.com