The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has initiated a preliminary examination of allegations that since July 1, 2016, thousands of persons have been killed in the Philippines’ war on drugs, some in clashes with and between gangs, but also in some alleged extrajudicial killings in the course of police operations.
ICC prosecutor Mrs. Fatou Bensouda has stressed that this is a preliminary examination. Depending on the findings of the examination, the prosecutor will either (1) initiate an investigation, subject to judicial review, and continue to collect information to establish a factual and legal basis for a case for filing with the ICC; or (2) decline to initiate a formal investigation as there is no reasonable basis to proceed. “As we do, we hope to count on the full engagement of the relevant national authorities,” she said. Aside from the Philippines, the Office of the Prosecutor is also opening a preliminary examination of cases in Venezuela.
The Philippines would be well-advised to extend its full cooperation with this preliminary examination of the ICC prosecutor. The country is a signatory to the Rome Statute. It deposited its instrument of ratification of the Statute on August 30, 2011, thereby acknowledging that beginning November 1, 2011, the ICC may exercise its jurisdiction over Rome Statute crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes – committed on Philippine territory or by its nationals.
Our Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has already declared it is ready to assist the ICC prosecutor. CHR Chairman Jose Luis Gascon urged all other relevant government agencies to cooperate with the examination, particularly the Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police.
The campaign against illegal drugs in the Philippines has been generally welcomed by the people, but there have been some unfortunate incidents such as the killing of minors like Kian de los Santos of Caloocan, for which cases have now been filed against some Caloocan policemen. It seems that some “scalawags” in some police forces may have taken advantage of the nationwide campaign to carry their own private projects.
The national government is carrying on its own investigation of these cases. The PNP suspended its “Tokhang” operations for a while and has now resumed it with new safeguards such as the use of body cameras and daytime-only visits to homes of suspected drug users. The Supreme Court is looking into the death of some 4,000 persons in anti-drug operations of the PNP.
The ICC prosecutor should be informed about all these moves and safeguards and this can be achieved through the full cooperation of all the various government agencies concerned. We are confident that with everyone pitching in to cooperate with the ICC prosecutor’s preliminary examination, she will see no reason to move up to an all-out investigation of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes under the Rome Statute.