Philippines rebuffs international court over Duterte's war on drugs

This comes after former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs left thousands of people dead. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippine government officially rejected Thursday a request by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to resume an investigation into former president Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, which left thousands of people dead.

The statement was the clearest indication yet that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who took office in June with Mr Duterte's daughter, Sara, as vice-president, would try to shield his predecessor from any independent investigation in the war on drugs.

Rights groups had feared that the alliance between the Marcoses and the Dutertes would mean that no one would be held accountable for the deaths of thousands of victims.

Last September, the ICC authorised a full investigation into Mr Duterte's bloody war on drugs, saying it had preliminary evidence to show "crimes against humanity" were committed. It later suspended the inquiry after the Philippines said it would conduct its own.

In August, the court asked the Philippines to respond to its prosecutor's request to reopen the investigation. But the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG), which is the chief lawyer for the Philippine government, argued that the international court in The Hague "has no jurisdiction" over the Philippines.

"The alleged murder incidents that happened during the relevant period do not constitute 'crimes against humanity'," the OSG said in a statement.

'Killings are continuing'

During Mr Duterte's presidential campaign in 2016, he pledged to deploy police and military in an all-out assault on criminals to "kill them all". Activists say the vast majority killed were poor Filipinos, some of whom were young boys or had nothing to do with the drug trade.

The Philippine National Police said roughly 8,000 people were killed in the violence, but rights groups have reported higher numbers.

The solicitor-general said the police were already investigating the killings, including those committed by state forces. It argued that the state-level investigation should "take precedence".

Mr Marcos has said he will continue fighting drug crimes but with a focus on prevention and rehabilitation.

Mr Carlos Conde, a senior Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the rights group has "found no compelling evidence" that the government was seriously investigating the drug-related deaths.

"In fact, the killings are continuing," he said. "And impunity for police officers and others implicated in these abuses by all accounts remains intact."

Ties that bind

Ms Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of the rights group Karapatan, which provides support to families of drug war victims, said the government's response "indicates its inability to acknowledge the injustices experienced by the victims and their families".

"Considering the political coalition of the Marcoses and the Dutertes, we know that they won't prosecute Duterte for the alleged crimes against humanity," Ms Palabay said.

"For the next six years, no police investigation is deemed independent, which is why we believe that an international independent investigation is needed," she said.

In August, Mr Marcos, whose father led the country for more than two decades, said that the Philippines had no intention of rejoining the ICC.

Mr Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2018, and Mr Marcos has said any investigators seeking to visit could do so only as tourists.

Only three people have been convicted in the government's often-indiscriminate campaign against crime. They were three police officers found guilty of murdering a 17-year-old student, who was shot after the officers claimed that he fought back.

But a CCTV camera showed the men led the boy away, generating an outcry among the public.

A separate internal investigation into 52 drug war deaths showed that police officers did not follow protocol, and often used excessive, deadly force. NYTIMES

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