President Marcos himself has spoken: the Philippine government will no longer engage with the International Criminal Court. “We’re done with the ICC,” the President said yesterday, confirming what Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra had said the previous day.
The statement was issued after the ICC rejected the government’s appeal of an earlier decision to proceed with the court’s preliminary investigation of possible crimes against humanity committed in the bloody campaign against illegal drugs, which was carried out in the years when Rodrigo Duterte was president and, previously, when he was mayor and vice mayor of Davao City.
In rebuffing the ICC, the government’s main argument is that all the pillars of the criminal justice system are working in the Philippines so there is no need for any foreign body to step in. The ICC, on the other hand, has noted a lack of any initiative on the part of the Philippine government to pursue the possibility that murder as a crime against humanity was committed in the brutal campaign launched by Duterte against the drug menace.
Law enforcement agencies have admitted killing over 6,000 suspects in anti-narcotics operations during the Duterte presidency alone. The ICC is also investigating allegations of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in Davao City when Duterte was mayor or vice mayor, alternating with his daughter Sara who is now the Vice President. Duterte has denied the existence of so-called Davao death squads.
There will be little fallout for the Marcos administration if it can show to the world that the Philippines’ criminal justice system, despite its many weaknesses, is fully functional. The decision to disengage from the ICC should not mean the end of the quest for justice for the thousands, all of them still mere suspects whose guilt had not been established, who were killed by state forces ostensibly for resisting arrest in Duterte’s war on drugs.
Guevarra had previously cited the difficulty of finding material evidence, credible witnesses and even relatives of those killed who are willing to file a complaint. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla had also urged police officers involved in anti-drug operations that led to killings to come out and testify. Yesterday, Remulla said the government is still open to a “dialogue” with the ICC. Remulla, who has said an ICC probe is an insult to a sovereign state and interference in Philippine affairs, promised such police officers protection. So far, there have been no takers.
Such difficulties should not mean that the government must give up in its efforts to ferret out the truth about the drug killings. The best argument for disengaging from the ICC is that the Philippines can render justice on its own, and ICC services are unnecessary.