International Criminal Court

Duterte gov’t asks ICC to stop investigation into drug war, Davao killings

Lian Buan

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Duterte gov’t asks ICC to stop investigation into drug war, Davao killings
(2nd UPDATE) ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan says they will 'temporarily suspend' investigative activities to assess the Philippines' request

The Duterte government has formally asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to stop its ongoing investigation into the bloody drug war and killings in Davao City.

“The Philippine government hereby requests that the Prosecutor defer to the Philippine government’s investigations and proceedings,” said the November 10 letter signed by Ambassador to The Netherlands J. Eduardo Malaya.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s government availed of the option under the Rome Statute’s Article 18(2) to ask the Prosecutor to stop the probe and instead recognize that the domestic systems are working to resolve problems.

The Department of Justice or DOJ’s advances, including releasing a matrix of 52 key cases of police killings in the drug war, are contained in the letter demonstrating supposed genuine investigations here.

One of the features of the Rome Statute is encouraging states to do their own investigations, and if proven genuine, the state would be left alone by the ICC.

The DOJ’s matrix last October showed that the Philippine National Police (PNP) kept those abuses internal, and imposed only light penalties on the erring cops.

But instead of filing criminal complaints, the DOJ is doing another round of verification through the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called superfluous.

“In addition to the 52 cases, the DOJ is also looking into more than 300 cases in the dockets of the National Prosecution Service that involve concluded and ongoing preliminary investigations into deaths of similar nature,” said Malaya in his letter to the ICC.

Included in the justifications cited by Malaya is the DOJ’s extrajudicial killings panel, which is yet to release a report on the Bloody Sunday incident last March where police killed nine activists while serving search warrants in the Calabarzon region.

Rappler has exclusively learned that confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) hitman Arturo Lascañas has been given a limited immunity deal by the ICC. Lascañas submitted a new affidavit to the ICC last October 2020, where he accused Duterte of masterminding killings in Davao when he was mayor there. (Read our Lascañas affidavit series here.)

Malaya’s letter did not mention any domestic investigation into Davao killings, which is covered by the investigation authorized by the pre-trial chamber. It cited, however, a general human rights program with the United Nations.

“Needless to state, the judicial system of the Philippines is alive and functioning,” said Malaya.

The Center for International Law (CenterLaw), a legal group founded by Duterte’s former spokesperson Harry Roque, said the claim of a genuine domestic investigation into the drug war “could not be further from the truth.”

“On the contrary, the fact that only 52 cases of the estimated 30,000 killed have been reviewed reveals that the government’s feigned compliance with international justice is paper-thin,” said CenterLaw in a statement Friday, November 19.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said in a statement Saturday, November 20, that the Philippines’ assertion that it has its own genuine investigation “is an absurd claim.”

“The reality is that impunity is the norm under President Duterte, which is why the ICC needs to investigate. Let’s hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is,” said Adams. 

Duterte gov’t asks ICC to stop investigation into drug war, Davao killings

Following this deferral request, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan on November 18 notified that they will “temporarily suspend” investigative activities to assess the Philippines’ deferral request.

“The Prosecution will, however, continue its analysis of information already in its possession as well as of any new information it may receive from third parties, and actively assess the need for applications to the pre-trial chamber for authority to conduct necessary investigative steps for the preservation of evidence under Article 18(6) of the Statute,” said Khan.

In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, counsel to some of the drug war victims who filed communications and representations, said “we ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration.”

“These are so contrary to what is happening on the ground and should never be taken at face value,” said the NUPL.

Duterte filed his candidacy for senator, but Malacañang denied that he did so to protect himself from the ICC. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.