ICC prosecutor’s insistence on ‘drug war’ probe a ‘disservice’ to Philippines — DOJ
Secretary of Justice Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla speaks in front of of DOJ employees during his first flag ceremony as justice secretary on July 4, 2022. In his speech Remulla has identified three attached agencies of the department that need their help.Philstar.com / EC Toledo
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice on Wednesday took offense at the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for pushing to launch an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs.”
ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan, in response to the Philippines’ submission of “drug war” findings, said the government did not give new arguments or information to preclude an official investigation. RELATED STORIESRights group: Refusal to re-join ICC ‘further victimizes’ drug war victims, kinFact check: Philippines has obligations despite leaving ICC in 2019
At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that while the country met its deadline for comment, Khan was “doing them a great disservice by putting a challenge to our system here.”
“We submitted these things to the ICC out of the principle of comity, nothing more, nothing else. We are not there ‘complying’ with anything because we are not members,” he said. “I just hope that this matter is not politicized, not weaponized by people in political positions.”
“Here comes a foreigner who thinks he knows the Philippines more than we do…Does he want us to speculate about all these unfortunate events that happened? Our job at the DOJ is to establish facts and prove a case, because nothing is more important than the rule of law.”
Remulla said the key issue in the Philippine government’s probe was that it was trying to investigate the cases individually. Official police data owns up to 6,100 drug-related killings by the end of the Duterte administration.
He also said the government’s own investigation will continue for the time being, though rights advocates have raised serious doubts about the administration’s ability to investigate itself.
“We are hoping there are more witnesses to come forward, because that’s what we need here,” he said. “We are looking for ways to protect the witnesses, and we are offering witness protection to anyone who comes forward.”
The justice chief went on to cite one case before the National Bureau of Investigation as an example, where he claimed “the investigation was temporarily closed for lack of interest or cooperation on the part of the possible witnesses…for fear of life among other reasons.”
But global investigative panel Investigate PH has said that on the ground, the friends and families of victims are intimidated and even threatened. Meanwhile, government officials point to the lack of formal complaints as evidence that operations are done by the book.
In a 21-page response dated September 22, the ICC prosecutor Khan maintained that “none of those arguments have merit.”
Familiar narrative on foreign interference
To recall, the ICC gave the Philippine government until September 8 to comment on the request of ICC Prosecutor Khan to resume the investigation of human rights violations allegedly committed under the term of former president Rodrigo Duterte.
It’s the same argument the national government has pushed since the time of Duterte. Remulla again framed the ICC as a meddling foreign influence overstepping into the affairs of the Philippines, whose justice system is supposedly working.
“Are they dictating on us what we should do as a country? […] We are a sovereign country who has a functioning system so I don’t see what the racket is all about, because as far as we are concerned, we’re not members of the ICC anymore,” he said.
“This is a sovereign matter for us to decide as a country that’s democratic. We do everything in our own pace in our own country; this is our country, not their country.”
Whether a member-state or not, though, the Philippines still does have obligations before the global court from the time it was still a member. This is because the Rome Statute, which the country signed, outlines in Article 127 that: “A State shall not be discharged, by reason of its withdrawal, from the obligations arising from this Statute while it was a Party to the Statute.”
In a Viber message to reporters, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra asserted that the ICC’s pre-trial chamber has not yet actually ruled on the Philippine government’s request to deny the ICC prosecutor’s motion to resume investigation.
“What was published recently was the ICC prosecutor’s response to the Philippine government’s position on the issue. the office of the solicitor general is presently considering whether there is a need to reply to the prosecutor’s response,” he said.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has said that his administration has no intention to rejoin the ICC. Marcos was among the senators who signed off on the country’s decision to join the ICC back in 2011.
“Regardless of the ruling, the Philippine government will avail itself of all legal remedies, both domestic and international, even as it vigorously pursues its own investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in relation to the government’s so-called war on drugs, all within the framework of our own legal and judicial system,” Guevarra said.