"For one more time, we call on this administration to stop the killings and violence."
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte was expected to once again defend his failed war against illegal drugs. He was expected, again, to be defiant of the International Criminal Court as it decides to investigate the crimes against humanity committed in the course of that misguided war.
As Manananggol Laban sa Extra-Judicial Killings (Manlaban) points out in a statement issued last Sunday, Fatou Bensouda, former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), has called for a full investigation of the Duterte government for these crimes, a consequence of the administration’s drug war policy which has claimed thousands of lives, and have left countless others orphaned and seeking for justice.
We point out that this request for authorization will cover the crimes committed from 01 November 2011 and 16 March 2019. Until 13 August 2021, victims of these crimes have the right to submit “representations” as provided for under the ICC legal framework, which means they can provide their views, concerns, and expectations regarding the request which the ICC Judges may then consider.
Manlaban, a group that includes lawyers and law students (including Atty. Neri J. Colmenares, Dean Anna Maria D. Abad, Atty. Minerva “June” M. B. Ambrosio, Atty. Joel R. Butuyan, Atty. Maria Kristina C. Conti, Former Solicitor General Atty. Florin T. Hilbay, Atty. Imelda C. Manalaysay, Atty. Edre U. Olalia, Atty. Roel J. Pulido. Dean Manuel P. Quibod, former Representative Lorenzo R. “Erin” Tanada III, and yours truly), also takes note that the Supreme Court made public on 21 July 2021 its decision on the Philippines’ obligation to cooperate with the ICC should the latter launch a formal investigation into the drug war.
In Pangilinan, et. al v. Cayetano, et. al., the Court, through its ponente Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, thoroughly threshed out the points raised by petitioners, including the validity of the President’s unilateral withdrawal from the Rome Statute and the intricacies of international law.
The Honorable Court posited that the Philippines validly withdrew from the Rome Statute; however, this decision does not discharge the Philippines from the obligations it has incurred as a member.
“Consequently,” the ponencia reads, “liability for the alleged summary killings and other atrocities committed in the court of the war on drugs is not nullified or negated here. The Philippines remained covered and bound by the Rome Statute until March 17, 2019.” This is provided for under Article 27 of the Statute.
Manlaban released its statement for a two-fold purpose:
“First, it lauds the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for the request to investigate the killings in the context of the war on drugs, and encourages the victims to come forward and inform the ICC of their positions; second, it condemns in the strongest terms the flagrant violation and complete disregard of our international obligations by the Duterte government.”
From 2011 up to the present, thousands have been killed in the guise of the drug war. Many of those who have participated in the killings still walk around with impunity, and are yet to be made to answer for their actions. The request, therefore, by the prosecutor, is a great initiative, and will—if taken cognizance of by the ICC—bring to justice those who perpetrate and enforce the killings, and remind the Duterte government of the consequences of its actions.
The refusal of the Duterte government to cooperate with the ICC despite the Supreme Court’s pronouncements show nothing but its continuous disregard of the law. It also shows the Duterte government’s refusal to be held accountable for its actions by engaging in mental calisthenics such as relying on its withdrawal from the ICC, which the Honorable Court has already stated is not a sufficient argument to not comply with the country’s obligations from when it was still a member.”
Manlaban points out how five years into his presidency, in the midst of a pandemic and the worst recession the Philippines has seen in decades, the Duterte government is showing its cracks and vulnerabilities—its stubborn hold on to power, its usage of violence, its refusal to be responsible for its actions. We call on making President Duterte accountable and deliver justice to individuals who have been killed and families that have been left behind by the ruthless, unjust, and anti-poor war on drugs.
On the eve of Duterte’s final state of the nation address, Manlaban issued this call for accountability and justice in solidarity with the victims of this government. For one more time, we call on this administration to stop the killings and violence not just in the war against drugs but also against political dissenters and human rights, environmental, and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders.