President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Shuts Out ICC Investigation of Philippine Drug War

The International Criminal Court’s pending investigation of the atrocities committed in the Philippine’s ‘War on Drugs’ under former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte continues to receive pushback from national leadership. In a statement on March 28, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced that the country was set to “cut off contact and communications” with the ICC after the Hague-based Court’s Chamber of Appeals rejected the Philippines’ petition to suspend the tribunal’s formal investigation that had been active since 2018. The ICC, having not found sufficient evidence that Manila was undertaking a comparable internal probe of the allegations as was promised in 2021, reopened its proceedings in January 2023 to widely-held suspicions that the Philippines would not comply with their holding, as observed by a previous OWP report

Marcos Jr.’s most recent act of resistance marks the latest in a long series of attempts made by government officials to leave questions of state-sanctioned violence under Duterte’s regime unanswered. Critically, it has bolstered a wave of misinformation regarding whether the Philippines is still considered to be under the formal jurisdiction of the ICC, given their continued refusal to cooperate with investigations. 

“We cannot cooperate with the ICC considering the very serious questions about their jurisdiction and about what we consider to be interference and practically attacks on the sovereignty of the Republic.” Marcos Jr. told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “We no longer have any recourse when it comes to the ICC.” Other officials have expressed uncertainty regarding Marcos Jr.’s remarks, feeling it is not clear whether the Philippines plans to fully drop its appeal against the Court’s investigation or pursue a different mode of opposition. “Disengaging could mean many things, and that is what I want to clarify with the president,” former Duterte advisor and current Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra told Reuters when asked to comment. 

Central to the rift between the Philippines and the ICC is the Philippines’ removal from the ICC’s Rome Statute, a treaty that regulates the jurisdiction of the Court in terms of prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other acts of aggression that do not see adequate intervention from the State in which they were committed (making the ICC a “court of last resort”). The ICC’s official website states that the Philippines entered the Rome Treaty on November 1, 2011 and withdrew on March 16, 2019, meaning that the Court retains jurisdiction to investigate any alleged crime occurring within that time frame.

Moreover, Marcos Jr.’s position that the ICC has unduly interfered with the Philippines’ judicial processes misrepresents these basic facts. In this case, the Philippines is being asked to comply with the terms of a treaty it previously ratified after evidence showed the country did not undertake its own sufficient investigation. The ICC’s choice to pursue an institutionally standard course of inquiry is not a breach of State sovereignty, but a show of commitment to the judicial processes and traditions of protection for human rights that undergird international law. 

Besides demonstrating broad ignorance of their obligation to the ICC, other recent actions have made clear that Filipino government leaders aim to dissociate from these standards of legal compliance and humanitarian concern. The Philippine Star reports that during March 29th’s virtual Summit for Democracy in Washington D.C., the Philippines was one of three countries (along with India and Israel) to notably abstain from acknowledging a clause in the Summit’s joint declaration to hold human rights abusers accountable, and to recognize the importance of the ICC in facilitating this goal. In support, the Philippine’s State Department of Foreign Affairs released a statement maintaining that “human rights platforms should not be politicized,” sparking further controversy among humanitarian rights and foreign policy commentators.

“The international community should not be fooled by the Philippine’s government’s duplicity and rhetoric,” Elaine Pearson, Director of Asia Human Rights Watch, told the Star. “The Marcos administration’s avowed commitments to protect human rights and fight impunity will be shown by whether it cooperates with the ICC’s investigation.”

Despite their government’s stalling, civilians and families on the frontlines of the Philippine’s drug crisis have rallied in support of expanding the ICC’s role in state judicial processes. Llore Pasco, a community organizer of the Rise Up for Life and Rights movement, has formed a coalition with other affected community members to  seek accountability for drug-related killings under Duterte’s regime that claimed the lives of their families. “What is Duterte afraid of? He is getting his day in court, a chance to defend himself. That’s more than our loved ones got, they were just executed,” Pasco told Al Jazeera.

She attested to the fact that the Philippine National Police (PNP) have not reached out to provide her updates on the status of the state’s internal investigation, remarking that the criminal legal system is “notoriously slow for people like me.” 

Another family member of a drug war victim, Nanette Castillo, expressed frustration at the PNP’s lack of urgency and competence. Castillo alleges that when she traveled to the PNP’s Manila Headquarters to demand more information on the case of her deceased son Aldrin, which had been marked as a “death under investigation” for months, she was met with apathy and carelessness from police officers. 

Kristina Conti, a lawyer of the ICC representing the victims’ families, sees these stories as endemic of a larger crisis than that which the State judiciary is equipped, nor has the will, to resolve. “It’s also about how other branches of government have ensured no rights violations or abuses, how they have ascribed accountability, how they have dealt with bad policies,” she argues. 

The Philippines’ Commission of Human Rights and the United Nations estimate that between 27,000 and 30,000 people have died in drug-related police operations, though very few surviving family members have successfully appealed to the legal system for justice. Only a handful of police officers were convicted for their involvement in drug-related deaths between 2022 and 2023, and thousands more cases still remain unopened.

For many of these families, supporting the involvement of the ICC and supportive, grassroots humanitarian organizations is the only viable way to secure any justice amid a national landscape of abject government cruelty and negligence. 

“Many of us are hoping, but not too much,” says Castillo. “We know it will take a while and we don’t want to get disappointed if nothing comes of it. I just want our officials to see our pain.”


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