Filipino President Rules Out Rejoining I.C.C., Preventing Probe Into Duterte Anti-Drug Killings

On August 1st, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of disgraced Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., ruled out the Philippines’ rejoining the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.), on the basis that the court’s prosecutorial plans are to resume an investigation into the previous government’s “war on drugs.” This decision remains in line with former president Rodrigo Duterte’s stance on rejoining the I.C.C. and rejects human rights activists’ demands for an investigation on the thousands of killings committed under the Duterte government.

The Philippines withdrew from the I.C.C. in 2019 after the Hague-based court launched an investigation the previous year into Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, which led to thousands of killings by the police force. Last September, judges at the I.C.C. authorized Prosecutor Karim Khan to investigate killings during this crackdown from between November 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30th, 2016 with the promise that he would utterly eradicate the Philippines’ population of drug users and sellers. Prior to his presidency, Duterte served as mayor of the city of Davao for 22 years, where the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug users by vigilantes was practically an implemented policy. In December 2016, speaking to a group of businesspeople, Duterte admitted to killing a few people himself while he was mayor.

Government data shows that, as of May, at least 6,252 people have died at the hands of the Philippine National Police during anti-illegal drug operations. However, other documents show that the police had already recorded 7,884 deaths between July 1, 2016 to August 31, 2020. This figure does not include victims of vigilante-style killings, whom human rights groups estimate would increase the number of fatalities to 30,000. Families and human rights groups have counted on the I.C.C. to bring justice to the thousands of victims, as domestic investigations and the Philippine justice system have proven to be ineffective in delivering accountability or justice.

However, the probe was suspended in November after the Philippines alleged in a letter to Khan that it was already investigating the allegations and, therefore, the I.C.C. did not have jurisdiction. According to I.C.C. rules, the court has jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed only while a country is a member and only if its criminal justice system is unable or unwilling to do so itself.

Marcos Jr., who took office on June 30th of this year, stated that he recently met with his justice secretary and other legal advisers to discuss the possible resumption of an I.C.C. investigation into the drug killings, but prior to his election win in May 2022, he had indicated that he would not support an I.C.C. investigation into alleged atrocities under Duterte. Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, served as Marcos’s running mate and significantly helped with his election win; now, she holds the position of vice president. Despite facing calls to prosecute Duterte over the killings from the “war on drugs,” Marcos Jr. has instead chosen to praise his predecessor in recent speeches.

“We are saying there is already an investigation here and the investigation is continuing. Why will there be such?” President Marcos Jr. said, questioning the possible resumption of the I.C.C. investigation.

It is evident that the Filipino justice system is infiltrated with corruption; it remains under the sway of the president and, therefore, cannot deliver justice to those senselessly murdered by the Duterte regime. Filipino rights groups have labeled the Department of Justice review as “misleading” and “grossly insufficient” and claimed that it exempts Duterte from scrutiny.

The impact of these drug-related killings has devastated urban families, including children, who live in the densely populated and impoverished communities where most drug raids occur. The ­victims, who are either ­suspected users or pushers, do not enjoy due process and are always killed at night, sometimes inside their own homes. The perpetrators are vigilantes, hired gunmen, or cops, who see almost no accountability for these crimes: the Philippine Department of Justice has only reviewed 52 cases for possible criminal liability, yet none of the 154 police officers in these cases have been criminally charged. Only one case out of thousands has resulted in a court conviction of three police officers, primarily because the crime was captured on video and the evidence could not be disputed.

Human rights defenders should continue to work with victims and their families to provide more information on specific cases to the I.C.C. While the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute took effect on March 17, 2019, the I.C.C. retains jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes committed between November 1, 2011 up to March 16, 2019, as the state’s withdrawal cannot be applied to deny the court’s jurisdiction retroactively. Therefore, the I.C.C. should take initiative and utilize their jurisdiction to further investigate the killings and arrest any known parties involved.

Although President Duterte is no longer in office, numerous Filipino citizens worry that the brutal anti-drug campaign will continue under Marcos and Vice President Duterte-Carpio. Therefore, the U.N.H.R.C. should launch its own independent investigations into the drug war killings and pressure the Marcos government to end this brutal killing campaign. International condemnation is necessary until reforms are made within the Philippines’ military and police forces to end all anti-drug killings in the nation.