On August 1, 2022, President Marcos announced that the Philippines has no intention to rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC). He claims that the government was already investigating the alleged crimes under the previous Duterte administration in the context of the anti-illegal drugs campaign; another investigation was not necessary. The decision was emphasized by newly appointed Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla: “We do not want to submit to any [international] court unless […] [our system] [is] dysfunctional.” Without the support of the Philippine government it might be difficult for the ICC to carry out the investigation due to its lack of police power. Remulla further stated that the domestic system was functional and merely requires efficiency improvement.
The Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called Marcos’ decision unfortunate. CHR executive director Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia stressed that being part of the ICC would have shown a “strong mark” of the government’s commitment to ensure that “there will always be a remedy for human rights violations and protection of present and future generations of Filipinos.”
In June 2022, ICC chief-prosecutor Karim Khan requested a pre-trial chamber (PTC) to authorize the resumption of the investigation into the extrajudicial killings in the so-called “war on drugs” in the Philippines under previous President Duterte. Local and international human rights groups welcomed Khan’s request. Human Rights Watch’s Senior Counsel Maria Elena Vignoli called it a “booster shot for accountability.” The 53-page ICC-resolution emphasizes that the Philippine government was not able to demonstrate that it investigated or was investigating its nationals or others in connection with the extrajudicial killings in the context of the “war on drugs” under the Duterte administration between 2016 and 2019 as well as between 2011 and 2016 when Duterte served as mayor in Davao City.
The investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity was temporarily suspended in November 2021 after the Philippine government requested the ICC to defer the investigation. The government argued that it was already conducting its own investigations into the killings. Although the Marcos administration does not intend to rejoin the ICC, it is according to Remulla not closing its doors to the ICC and willing to provide information to the ICC upon its request. Then-President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his willingness to face a Philippine court only; if he was imprisoned for the killings, he would only accept a Philippine jail. The ICC’s pre-trial chamber invited the Philippines to comment on the report until September 8, 2022; the country, however, is not required to follow the order.
Newly appointed Philippine National Police chief General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. emphasized in August 2022 that the killing of those involved in illegal drugs is not a solution – instead the goal should be to go after the masterminds of the drug trade. According to Azurin, this approach will save many lives and those responsible for selling and producing illegal drugs will be held accountable. Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benhur Abalos, however, emphasized that the “war on drugs” “will be [under his watch] as intensive as before.”
Photo © Raffy Lerma