The fox in the henhouse
NEW YORK—Last Thursday, January 26, saw some welcome news: the International Criminal Court resumed its investigation into the extrajudicial killings, or EJKs, committed during the drug war instigated by Rodrigo Duterte, both when he was mayor of Davao City, and when he assumed the presidency in 2016. The time period the ICC is examining? November 1, 2011 to March 16, 2019.
The ICC has given prosecutor Karim Khan permission to pick up where he left off, when the ICC investigation, which Khan heads, was suspended in late 2021, with the Duterte administration insisting it was itself seriously conducting its own investigations into the allegations, that it had a responsive judicial system, and that furthermore, the ICC had no jurisdiction over a sovereign nation such as the Philippines.
Not surprisingly, Malacañang doubled down on the ICC’s announcement, when Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla declared that the International Criminal Court’s resumption of the investigation was “totally unacceptable.” Remulla went on to say, “We are a fully functioning judicial system and I don’t see where they [the ICC] will come in, what role they will play, unless they want to take over our legal system or they want to take over our country. I don’t see that happening.”
On the other hand, human rights groups and families of the victims—mostly from society’s marginalized—applauded the resumption of the ICC investigation. Randy delos Santos, the uncle of one victim, 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, said the ICC decision revived hopes among still-grieving families that they could get justice and that powerful people behind the deaths could be held accountable.
Kian was one of the many young men shot to death by police in August 2017, and would have been just another grim statistic, but his slaying became headline news when footage from security cameras and eyewitness accounts show cops dragging the unfortunate young man into a back alley and executing him even as he begged for his life. The unimpeachable evidence contradicted the usual police claim in such instances, that the suspect had a gun, had then opened fire on the cops, thus forcing them to fire back in self defense—evidence that led to three policemen being found guilty by a court of Kian’s murder, a very rare conviction.
While the Philippine government says it doesn’t mind talking with ICC investigators and providing updates on its own investigation into the drug deaths, it considers unacceptable any attempt by the ICC to, as Remulla puts it, “impose themselves on us.” As to why it seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time into looking into these horrific killings, Remulla emphasized that gathering evidence was no easy task and that moreover there were other problems. What the latter were the justice secretary did not elaborate.
What might these other problems be?
For one, getting the government to seriously investigate these EJKs is to ask the fox to look into why the population of a henhouse seems to be dwindling. For another, the current Philippine vice-president is Sara Duterte, Duterte’s daughter and probable presidential candidate in 2028. It is therefore highly unlikely that Daughter Duterte would betray Daddy Duterte by having the government cooperate with the ICC.
Nor will the ICC decision find favor with President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., who has declared that he does not intend to revive the country’s ICC membership. Not only would this provoke a bitter fight with his vice-president, it would completely undercut his assertion, repeatedly made during his campaign for the presidency, that his father’s brutal dictatorial rule, of which Duterte père is an admirer, was in fact a “golden age,” when presumably the economy was booming, human rights were upheld, and all was right in the world.
The hypocrisy behind the reason Manila refuses to cooperate with the ICC becomes abundantly clear when one takes into account three prominent cases that illustrate the sad state of justice in the country: those of Senator Leila de Lima, journalist Maria Ressa—awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov—and former congressman and public intellectual Walden Bello, founder and chairperson of the left-wing alliance Laban ng Masa (Fight of the Masses). Bello campaigned for the vice-presidency, against Daughter Duterte.
De Lima has been in a military prison the past six years, based on false charges of drug trafficking. She is in fact a political prisoner: from the start of the Duterte administration, the senator was the foremost critic of his vaunted drug war. Maria Ressa and Walden Bello are contending with cyberlibel charges against them, which human rights organizations say are spurious. Ressa, co-founder and CEO of the not-for-profit investigative news organization Rappler, has been a persistent thorn in the side of Daddy Duterte; with Bello, it is Daughter Duterte whom he has mightily displeased.
Given the continuity between the current administration and the previous one, none of these cases will soon be dismissed. Through the ICC investigation however a measure of justice is attainable for all those murderously affected by the so-called war on drugs, and thus perhaps lead to favorable outcomes in the case of De Lima, Ressa, and Bello. Copyright L.H. Francia 2023