Philippines challenges ICC investigation again

On May 19, 2023, the Philippine government made a fresh attempt to challenge its commitment to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the so-called “war on drugs” under R. Duterte, during his time as President of the Philippines and Mayor of Davao City (2011-2019). In its response to the ICC regarding the current appeal, the Philippine government argues that former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s initial preliminary investigation in 2018 – which was launched before the Philippines’ withdrawal in March 2019 – already constituted an examination of alleged human rights violations in the “war on drugs.”

In January 2023, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber allowed the reopening of the investigation in the Philippines, which had been stalled since November 2021. The government failed to demonstrate sufficient national investigation into the cases of extrajudicial killings in the “war on drugs.” The Philippine government appealed, arguing in particular that this would violate its sovereignty. On April 4, 2023, Prosecutor Karim Khan submitted a 56-page response asking the ICC to reject the country’s petition.

Survivors and victims of the “war on drugs” are calling for the continuation of the investigations, as they continue to consider their prospects of receiving justice under the current Marcos government as not amounting to “tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation.” This was reiterated by 350 affected individuals and 165 families in a 21-page report they submitted through the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS) of the ICC on May 22, 2023, to promote the conduct of the investigation from a victim-oriented perspective. The report highlighted in particular the existing lack of documentation of cases of extrajudicial killings and state interventions or investigations.

In the next two to three months, the ICC Appeals Chamber will take a decision on whether Khan can continue his investigation in the Philippines. If this were to happen, however, the ICC chief prosecutor would continue to face the difficulty of the lack of, or support for, police power in the Philippines.

The EU also welcomed the Philippines’ pro-EU position on the Ukraine-Russia war during the annual EU-ASEAN Business Council dinner in Manila in late May 2023 and reiterated its support regarding the Philippines’ sovereignty claims in the conflict within the West Philippine Sea. President Marcos Jr. also called there for the resumption of talks on the EU-Philippines Free Trade Agreement. Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual expressed to address this as well as the status of the Philippines’ reapplication for the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) Scheme during his June 2023 visit to Brussels.

The GSP+ has so far allowed the Philippines trade preferences on over 6,000 export products to the EU as long as, among others, international human rights standards are respected. The insufficient improvement of the human rights situation in the Philippines has made the EU’s decision on re-approving trade preferences in the next cycle in 2024 uncertain.


Photo © Raffy Lerma

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