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Facing investigation

The announcement of International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that she has asked the court for permission to proceed with an investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines is a serious blow to the credibility of the government’s war on drugs that must be addressed by more than just claiming that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the country because a functioning criminal justice system allegedly exists and it has already withdrawn from the ICC.

Bensouda said her office has ended its preliminary examination into the Philippines and found “there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed… in the context of the Government of the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’ campaign.”

The outgoing ICC prosecutor asked judges at the world’s only permanent war crimes court to authorize an investigation into allegations that Philippine police unlawfully killed as many as tens of thousands of civilians between 2016 and 2019.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte will “never cooperate” with any ICC investigation, repeating a previous assertion that the ICC has no jurisdiction in the Philippines because it pulled out of the tribunal in 2019 after the court launched a preliminary examination into Duterte’s war on drugs.     Interestingly, Roque was among the first notable personalities to celebrate when the Philippines ratified its membership in the ICC in 2011.

This time, Roque rejected the ICC prosecutor’s findings, saying it was “an insult to all Filipinos” to suggest the country’s justice system was not working.

Under the ICC’s withdrawal mechanism the court keeps jurisdiction over crimes committed during the membership period of the state, in this case between 2016 and 2019 when the pullout become official.

It is ironic for a government that insisted that those who had nothing to hide had nothing to fear as it prosecuted its war on drugs to be unwilling to face the music and grab the opportunity to defend the legality of its actions now that an investigation into alleged serious wrongdoings and abuses has been launched by the International Criminal Court.

It would be best for the Philippines and everyone involved if our leaders are capable of defending their decisions, policies and actions. They can take comfort that the ICC will follow procedure and won’t resort to extrajudicial killings or tokhang against suspects, allowing due process for the accused. There should be nothing to fear for those who truly worked within the bounds of the law and the justice system.

A government that can address the serious accusations that have been leveled against its leaders would legitimize the results of the drug war that it staked its reputation on. Why are our leaders avoiding this confrontation instead?*

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