International Criminal Court

[OPINION] Who’s afraid of the ICC? Duterte, that’s who

Leila de Lima

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[OPINION] Who’s afraid of the ICC? Duterte, that’s who

Graphic by Alyssa Arizabal

'The bigger the sin, the greater the fear, the more desperate and senseless the excuses'

The question practically answers itself. 

It’s the people who have something to fear from the investigation being conducted by the ICC. The people who owe a debt to justice and are now afraid that the time to pay has come. 

If the concept of “justice” seems too abstract, let me make it more simple: the people who fear the ICC are the ones who fear the consequences of their own actions. Plain and simple. Even children understand the concept. 

Who should fear the ICC more than the President who said that 100,000 people would die in his war on drugs, that the bodies dumped would be enough to fatten the fish in Manila Bay?

Who should fear the ICC more than the President who proudly said he would issue shoot-to-kill orders to the security services and offer them bounties for the bodies of drug dealers?

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Who should fear the ICC more than the President who, on his very first day in office, told police officers, “Do your duty, and if in the process you kill 1,000 persons because you were doing your duty, I will protect you?”

Who should fear the ICC more than the President who went further and tried to enlist the public in his killing spree, saying, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself…”?

Who should fear the ICC more than the President who repeatedly said that he assures people that funeral parlors “won’t go bankrupt. If your business slows I will tell the police, ‘Do it faster to help the people earn money’”?

Clearly, the answer to the question “Who’s afraid of the ICC” is Rodrigo R. Duterte and all his henchmen, starting from his PNP chiefs and his then DOJ secretary, who all joined his bloody campaign and justified it by dehumanizing their victims.

You are right, Mr. Duterte, you really did make sure that funeral parlors make a killing, in more ways than one. But as the last year and a half as proven, it doesn’t take much in terms of intelligence and courage to kill. It is much too easy to kill your own people; even a quasi-living organism like a virus can do it without much effort. It is much harder to keep your people alive, isn’t it? It is much harder to really solve crises than shooting bullets at defenseless people, isn’t it?

But you know what is harder? To outrun justice. 

Because like love, justice is patient. You might have managed to evade justice the past five years. You might manage to evade justice the next few years. But justice is patient. A year ago, a 93-year-old former Nazi Guard was convicted in one of Germany’s last Holocaust trials, and as late as February of this year, a “95-year-old woman was formally charged in Germany with complicity in the murder of 10,000 people at…a former Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland,” and a 100-year-old man, who served as an SS guard at a concentration camp in Germany.

And even in death, tyrants and murderers will have to face the consequences of their actions one way or another. In 2007, the Spanish government passed the Law of Historical Memory, which formally condemned the regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and recognized the victims of his regime along with a pledged aid to those victims and their descendants. Not two years ago, his remains were exhumed from a vast mausoleum and moved to a low-key grave, 44 years after his death, and last April, Spain announced the exhumation of the mass grave on the same site containing the remains of more than 33,000 victims.

The so-called courage in the face of the helpless will be recognized for the act of cowardice that it is. 

The bigger the sin, the greater the fear, the more desperate and senseless the excuses. 

The irony of seeing the man, who denied thousands of their rights to life, to due process and the simple dignity of being treated as human beings, now hiding behind those same rights, is simultaneously pathetic and enraging.

So the better question is, who is NOT afraid of justice? I am not.

The innocent never fear the light, while the guilty cower in the shadows. We don’t fear any investigations, because eventually the truth will be revealed and we will be vindicated.

And who benefits from the ICC investigation? It is not just the victims and their families, but the entire Filipino people and the whole of humanity. If there is one universal concept in this world: it is a craving for fairness. It is what lies behind all human conflict, big and small: when we are wronged, we want things to be righted. We need to be assured that the world makes sense, and actions have consequences.

Duterte once said that he will punish me for the sin of defending human rights in the face of tyrants like him. To that I plead guilty.

I speak so that the ordinary Filipinos may not have to.

I speak about injustice so those who crave it do not feel they are alone.

That is what the ICC proceedings are at its most basic. It takes care of the monstrous crimes that our leaders perpetrate against us, so we only have to worry about going to work and feeding and caring for our family. 

So, plainly, not a single Filipino but Duterte and his cohorts are afraid of the ICC. As they should be. Duterte may run from justice, but history will remember. Whether or not the case ends in a conviction this year, or years from now, it would have served its purpose if the crimes and the atrocities against the victims are documented and preserved, waiting for the right time for justice to be served. 

For justice is patient. Justice never tires. It keeps records of wrongs, and awaits the right time to unleash its wrath. –

Senator Leila de Lima, a fierce Duterte critic, has been detained in a facility at the Philippine National Police headquarters for several years over what she calls trumped-up drug charges.

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