Archbishop Villegas: Philippines should allow entry of ICC probers

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said on Wednesday that investigators from the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be allowed to enter the Philippines to probe allegations of human rights abuses in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

“Insofar as this process seeks to ferret out the truth and, possibly, to hold accountable those who, in an arrogant abuse of power, may have caused others, even possibly innocent people, loss of life in violation of guarantees enshrined in the Philippine Constitution as well as in human rights treaties to which the Philippines is a party, a thorough inquiry by persons without vested interests or prior alliances should be welcome,” Villegas said in a statement.

“Truth has never destroyed a nation. It is falsehood that has been the undoing of many peoples,” he added.

Villegas said that supporting the ICC investigation is “in no way a vote of no confidence” for the country’s justice system, saying the court also honors the principle of complementarity.

“Our sense of nationhood cannot be so fragile that it cannot allow the entry of persons clothed with international authority to make a determination for themselves that our agencies of law enforcement and prosecution are willing and able to prosecute and to try persons responsible for what can only be characterized as truly heinous assaults on human life,” he said.

“If we have faith in ourselves and in our institutions, then we should not hesitate about allowing officials of the International Criminal Tribunal to see for themselves that we are able to bring the culpable before the Bar of Justice,” Villegas added.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2019 after the tribunal began a preliminary probe into his administration’s drug war.

The probe was suspended in November 2021 after the Philippine government said it was re-examining several hundred cases of drug operations that led to deaths at the hands of police, hitmen, and vigilantes.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan had asked to restart the inquiry, saying the Philippine government had not provided evidence it was carrying out thorough inquiries.

The ICC authorized the reopening of the inquiry in January 2023.

In July of this year, the ICC Appeals Chamber denied the appeal of the Philippine government against the resumption of the investigation into the war on drugs.

In response, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the country would not comply if the ICC issued an arrest warrant against individuals allegedly involved in the cases.

Other Philippine officials, including President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., have said the government will not cooperate with the ICC, reiterating that the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the country.

Under Duterte’s drug war, at least 6,200 suspects were killed in police operations, based on government records. Human rights groups, however, claimed the actual death toll could be between 12,000 and 30,000. —VBL, GMA Integrated News

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