Rodrigo Duterte

[Vantage Point] Duterte, ICC, and the rule of law

Val A. Villanueva

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Vantage Point] Duterte, ICC, and the rule of law
Some sectors believe that the Marcos administration is using the ICC card as a shotgun pointed at the head the Duterte faction. Whatever the case may be, I welcome the move.

Citing that there were sufficient domestic-level investigations into the crimes committed under the previous administration, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced on August 1, 2022, that the Philippine government “had no intention of rejoining” the International Criminal Court (ICC).

On November 25 this year, the President raised the possibility of ICC prosecutors being allowed to investigate and possibly prosecute former President Rodrigo Duterte for crimes against humanity in the conduct of his bloody war on drugs. Marcos Jr. said that proposals for the country’s rejoining the ICC “are under study.” This obvious turnaround has pushed the former president and his daughter, Vice President (VP) and Education Secretary Sara into a corner. 

If you recall, then chair of the Human Rights Commission and later Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima sought to investigate then-Davao City mayor Duterte’s role in the extrajudicial killings.

Nothing came out of the probe, however, simply because no witness dared to come forward. But the ICC has since stepped in to investigate the deaths of thousands of Filipinos, not only in Davao City, where the Duterte family had reigned for decades, but in the whole country.

Since taking office on June 30, 2016, Duterte has carried out a “war on drugs” that has led to the deaths of over 12,000 Filipinos to date, mostly from the urban poor. At least 2,555 of the killings have been attributed to the Philippine National Police (PNP). The ICC is also looking into the possible role of VP Sara in the mass murders, a development that does not bode well for her ambition to become president.

Duterte now shares with Nazi war criminals the dubious distinction of being accused of crimes against humanity. Interestingly, the ICC is a precursor of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which tried Adolf Hitler’s henchmen at the end of World War II for exterminating six million Jews, the mentally deficient and physically unfit, and homosexuals.

The ICC probe into Duterte’s war on drugs is now at the stage where Prosecutor Karim Khan can either request for an arrest warrant or summons or both, if there is sufficient evidence to carry our his mandate.

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Many wonder whether Marcos Jr. is dead serious in letting the ICC into the country to conduct an investigation into Duterte’s drug war.

The apprehension springs from the recent infighting between the Sara faction and supporters of Speaker Martin Romualdez, the President’s cousin. Some sectors believe that the present administration is using the ICC card as a shotgun pointed at the head the Duterte faction. The Romualdez camp has repeatedly denied such innuendos. Whatever the case may be, I welcome the move. The comeuppance of these criminals has been a long time coming. 

Inadequate drug war probe

Marcos Jr., says that, while he sees nothing odd with the filing of resolutions in the House of Representatives prodding the government to liaise with the ICC, the country’s judicial system is functioning well and can thus do the job. Upon Duterte’s order in March 2018, the country withdrew from the Rome Statute when then-ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda declared the launch of a preliminary examination on the drug killings. It was the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

Amnesty International has constantly underscored that, whatever the Philippine government initiated, they have been “woefully inadequate and wholly lacking in credibility.” Nobody has been held accountable for the alleged Duterte-led murders and other abuses executed in the context of the previous administration’s “war on drugs.”

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Stating that the Philippine government has continued to fail to investigate these violations and prosecute the perpetrators of this drug war, Amnesty International has called for the expedited investigation by the ICC and whoever else has universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and other applicable crimes under international law.

Aside from his war on drugs, I believe that Duterte has caused the erosion of the country’s moral fiber. His statements and policies have contributed to a culture of hate. He has “normalized” uncouth behavior among Filipinos with his blunt and inflammatory language, both in public speeches and on social media. His comments, especially those directed at his political opponents, critics, and specific groups of people, have been criticized for being derogatory and divisive.

Duterte has weaponized the courts against his perceived enemies, a prime example of which is De Lima’s six-year detention. His war on drugs, carried out by heavy-handed approach and extrajudicial killings may have contributed to a culture of violence and impunity.

Experts whom Vantage Point has spoken to said that the former president’s unfounded criticism of media outlets and journalists – labeling them as biased or enemies of the state – contributed to a culture of distrust and animosity towards these institutions. He has also polarized the political landscape which influenced a culture of “us versus them,” where differing political opinions are met with hostility. Duterte’s populist approach simplified complex issues and promoted a divisive narrative.

Erosion of rule of law

One of the fundamental pillars of any democracy is the rule of law, ensuring that all citizens are equal before the law and protected from arbitrary use of power. Duterte’s harsh approach to law enforcement, particularly in the context of his war on drugs, the extrajudicial killings,and alleged human rights abuses associated with this campaign have raised questions about the prioritization of law and order over due process and human rights. 

Under Duterte, there have been instances of political suppression, with critics facing harassment, legal action, and, in some cases, imprisonment. The controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, criticized for its potential abuse in stifling dissent, is emblematic of legislative measures that have raised concerns about the diminishing space for political opposition. The prioritization of quick and harsh punishments with disregard for due process has raised ethical questions, challenging the fundamental principles of justice and fairness.

Giving precedence to national security over human rights raises ethical questions about the value placed on the sanctity of life. The consequential impact on the moral compass of Filipino society is evident, with the government’s actions undermining the core principles of human dignity and respect for life.

The strength of democratic institutions is vital for the proper functioning of any democracy. Duterte’s administration has faced criticism for challenging or bypassing established institutions. The withdrawal of the Philippines from the ICC, amid investigations into alleged human rights abuses, for example, raised concerns about the government’s commitment to international norms and public accountability.

The erosion of democratic principles has raised alarms both domestically and internationally. The delicate balance between maintaining law and order and upholding democracy has also been altered.

Duterte’s blunt rhetoric and endorsement of violence as a means to an end have contributed to the normalization of aggression in public discourse. His controversial statements, often laced with profanity, have set a tone that undermines respectful and civil communication. This normalization of aggressive language and behavior can be seen as a distortion of moral values, since it challenges the traditional Filipino values of respect and humility. –

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Let us hope that there will be no other Duterte who will come to power as President of this country and that President Marcos Jr. will not be “infected” by former President Duterte’s anti-democratic values and actions and that he will not imitate what his father had done to Philippine Democracy 51 years ago.

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