Philippines defiant, says won’t cooperate with ICC investigation

January 27, 2023 - 6:10 PM
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Aurora Blas holds a portrait of her husband Thelmo Blas in her home in Caloocan City, Philippines, April 1, 2021. Picture taken April 1, 2021. A police report says Blas’ body was dumped by the side of the road in 2016 along with a placard calling him a drug pusher. His death certificate says he died of pneumonia. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)
  • Justice secretary says ICC cannot impose on Manila
  • Duterte’s crackdown on drugs blamed for over 6,200 deaths
  • ICC had in 2021 suspended investigation at Manila’s request
  • Marcos has previously said did not intend to rejoin ICC

AMSTERDAM/MANILA — The International Criminal Court’s decision to allow a probe into the Philippines‘ drugs war to resume is an “irritant”, the country’s justice secretary said on Friday, maintaining the ICC has no jurisdiction over the country’s affairs.

Jesus Crispin Remulla said the ICC should not impose on the Philippines, which is no longer a signatory to the international tribunal.

“They are insulting us,” Remulla told a media briefing after the ICC granted its prosecutor’s request to reopen an investigation into the killings during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ and other suspected rights abuses.

Police say they killed 6,200 dealers who resisted arrest during anti-drug operations during Duterte’s term. Many thousands more users and peddlers were gunned down during the crackdown, in what authorities said were vigilante killings. Rights groups and some victims accuse the police of systematic cover-ups and executions, which they deny.

The ICC, which had suspended the investigation in November 2021 at Manila’s request, said in a statement it was “not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations that would warrant a deferral of the investigation.”

But Remulla said the timing of the ICC‘s move was “very wrong” since the country is “doing what it takes to fix the system,” like improving law enforcement agencies, including the police.

“I do not welcome this move of the ICC and I will not welcome them to the Philippines until they make clear that they will respect us in this regard,” Remulla said.

He said the country was open to dialogue with the ICC, and would provide the court with data if asked, but “they cannot come in here and impose themselves on us.”

Former police chief Ronaldo dela Rosa, who oversaw Duterte’s bloody crackdown, had earlier said he would cooperate with the ICC if the government decided to participate.

Current Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and the vice president, who is Duterte’s daughter, did not comment on the latest ICC decision. He said in August he had no intention of rejoining the ICC after Duterte pulled out of the court in 2019, after accusing it of prejudice.

Human Rights Watch said the ICC investigation was the only credible path to justice for victims and their families.

“As the court’s judges agreed, Philippine authorities are not ‘undertaking relevant investigations’ into these crimes or ‘making a real or genuine effort’ to carry these investigations out,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “The ICC offers a path forward to fill the accountability vacuum.”

Families of many drug war victims are still seeking justice in long, drawn-out cases.

In a rare conviction, a Philippine court in 2018 sentenced three police officers to up to 40 years in jail for the murder of a 17-year-old high school student. The teenager’s death featured in a report by a former ICC prosecutor.

RELATED: ICC prosecutor authorized to reopen drug war investigation

— Reporting by Karen Lema and Enrico Dela Cruz in MANILA and Benoit Van Overstraeten in AMSTERDAM; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Davies, Kanupriya Kapoor