03/17/2023, 17.11
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Philippines opposes investigation by the International Criminal Court into its 'War on drugs’

For Philippine authorities, the ICC lacks jurisdiction and its work would violate its sovereignty. Human Rights Watch warns that any investigation is fraught with difficulties. The current president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, is against any foreign role in the matter.

Manila (AsiaNews) – The tug-of-war between Philippine authorities and the International Criminal Court (ICC) continues over the killings committed between May 2016 and September 2017, at the height of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs”, with the declared goal of eliminating drug trafficking and consumption.

The magnitude the anti-drug campaign prompted the then ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to open a preliminary examination in 2018 that led to a pre-trial chamber authorising the opening of a formal investigation in September 2021.

However, on Monday, the Philippine government asked the ICC reverse its decision of 26 January to reopen investigations into the killings and violence that deeply marked Philippine society, especially the weakest its sectors.

The lawyers representing the victims' families insist on an independent inquiry, while the Philippines wants the case dropped for two reasons – violation of the country’s sovereignty and lack of jurisdiction. The Philippines ratified the Treaty of Rome in 2011 recognising the jurisdiction of the Court, but withdrew in October 2017.

In a 50-page submission, the Philippine Office of the Solicitor General asked the Appeals Chamber to “grant suspensive effect pending resolution of this appeal”.

As state lawyers, including Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, who previously headed the Department of Justice, said, “the ICC prosecution’s activities in furtherance of its investigations would lack any legal foundation and encroach on the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines.”

The current president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, has on several occasions expressed his opposition to any foreign role in the matter, relying on unprecedented popular support and a widespread desire for legality and social peace.

Based on the Philippines’ request, the Appeals Chamber could still authorise trials, but, as Human Rights Watch notes, it still has to collect evidence if it wants to proceed against any one individual, and it cannot predict how long this will take, including the Duterte’s case. For his part, the former president said that law enforcement involved in the crackdown should be granted immunity.

Philippine authorities claim a total of 6,248 deaths in the anti-drug campaign, while independent sources believe the number to be at least twice as high.

Two main facts emerge from the official data, namely, the crackdown targeted mostly the poor and marginalised who paid with their lives, and the disproportionately high number of killings in cities, starting with Metro Manila, which had 39.8 per cent of deaths even though it is home to only 13 per cent of the country’s population.

In the capital, 51 per cent of deaths reportedly took place in circumstances other than the ones officially admitted by the authorities, like resisting arrest or attacking police.

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