year-end stories

Quest for justice in 2021: Families of Duterte’s drug war victims bank on the ICC

Jodesz Gavilan

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Quest for justice in 2021: Families of Duterte’s drug war victims bank on the ICC

Graphics by Nico Villarete

Families of drug war victims are banking on the International Criminal Court to give justice for their loved ones

MANILA, Philippines – The impunity in the Philippines – caused by President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly combination of violent rhetoric and action, together with the slow justice system – was placed under stronger scrutiny in 2021.

The International Criminal Court began its formal investigation into deaths under Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, with the ICC pre-trial chamber saying in September 2021 that the killings “took place pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy.”

As of October 31, government data showed that 6,215 people had been killed in police anti-illegal drug operations alone, while rights groups estimated the number to reach 30,000 to include those killed vigilante-style. The much-publicized inter-agency review panel, led by the Department of Justice, has not filed any case against erring policemen in anti-drug ops, even if it found that there were lapses in protocols during the operations.

Also siginificant in the ICC’s latest move was its decision to investigate killings in Davao City when Duterte was still mayor. It noted that the “similarities in the modus operandi are also discernible” between the nationwide drug war and the Davao City killings from 2011 to 2016.

The intensity of the killings in Duterte’s turf was again placed under the spotlight with the latest allegations from self-confessed Davao Death Squad Arturo “Arthur” Lascañas. A Rappler investigative series revealed details from the new affidavit the retired Davao cop submitted to the ICC, and corroborated through interviews and other documents Lascañas’ claim that Duterte ordered the extrajudicial killings and that he had been protecting his friend Michael Yang’s alleged drug operations.

The ICC has granted limited immunity to Lascañas, which means the court wouldn’t use crimes he confessed to as evidence against him.

The Duterte government has requested a deferral of the investigation. This prompted ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to temporarily pause its investigation as a matter of procedure, but not without asking the Duterte government for proof that it was genuinely investigating the war on drugs.

Duterte’s term is ending, but the public has yet to see solid proof that there is justice for the victims of his drug war. The families of those who were killed are banking on the ICC to give it to them.

Here is a list of stories detailing what has happened in 2021 on this front:

The International Criminal Court probes Duterte’s drug war
Ex-Davao top cop Lascañas drops new allegations vs Duterte before ICC


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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.