“The poor have been striving hard to get out of poverty but the President’s answer buried them instead, literally and figuratively.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – At exactly 10:10 a.m. last Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2018, the very first complaint and communication was filed by victims of an ongoing policy against an incumbent head before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“I was scared at first (about being one of the named complainants). Even my children were worried for my safety. But I have to exact justice for their father, for my husband,” Purisima Dacumos, one of the complainants in the communication filed before the ICC, told Bulatlat.
Dacumos, along with five other complainants, and the organization Rise Up for Life and For Rights, filed a 50-page complaint and communication before the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, based in The Hague, The Netherlands, against the anti-illegal drugs campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte, which, critics said, only targeted alleged petty illegal drug users and traders.
The complaint and communication, as stated in the executive summary distributed to reporters during the press conference on Tuesday, “is the first case directly filed by the families of victims themselves against the sitting Head of State for the mass murder of, and, other inhumane acts committed against thousands of Filipinos.”
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Who are the complainants?
During the interview with Bulatlat, Dacumos remembered her husband’s killing as if it were only yesterday. Though she appeared timid, it was impossible not to sense the rage that boils under the seemingly calm surface – the very same rage that brings her strength to find justice for her husband.
A Manila Times report, however, said that Danilo was shot dead after “he engaged lawmen in a shootout,” adding that he allegedly pulled a firearm and fired at the police officers, who in turn, supposedly fired back at him. These days, such narrative is otherwise known as “nanlaban.”
But Dacumos’ account is different.
On Aug. 3, 2017, Dacumos, her husband Danilo, their 15-year-old daughter, and their three grandchildren were inside their house when a group of policemen wearing plainclothes knocked on their door and told them to get out of the house and leave Danilo behind.
Worried about her husband’s safety, Dacumos said she maintained a close distance to their house – a mere two meters.
“Then, I heard three gunshots. I knew right there and then, even without looking, that my husband was killed. I felt a part of me had also died. I was shaking with fear. But at the same time, I was also worried over my daughter and grandchildren’s safety at that time. We could be killed as well,” she told Bulatlat in Filipino.
In the complaint and communication, they said the “pattern is eerily the same – heavily armed squad of policemen will drag or keep the victims in an isolated area under their full control, away from prying eyes. No more than an hour after, the police will emerge with dead bodies and the story of an operation gone awry.”
Dacumos is joined by five other named complainants in the complaint and communication lodged before the ICC. They are:
1. Irma J. Locasia, mother of Salvador J. Locasia, Jr. killed in a police operation on August 31, 2016
2. Dennise B. David, father of John Jezreel T. David killed in a police operation on January 20, 2017
3. Maria C. B. Lozano, sister of Crisanto and Juan Carlos B. Lozano both killed in a police operation on May 12, 2017
4. Mariel F. Sabangan, sister of Bernabe F. Sabangan killed alongside Arnold S. Vitales in a police operation on May 15, 2017
5. Normita B. Lopez, mother of Djastin B. Lopez killed in a police operation on May 18, 2017
The seventh complainant is the Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a network of church people, human rights advocates and victims and families of the affected communities.
The complainants were assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), led by human rights lawyer and former lawmaker Neri Colmenares.
“A group like this,” Dacumos said referring to Rise Up, “gives us strength to carry on. We are united. We share the same story. It gives us the courage too.”
The families of those killed in the government’s war on drugs also noted that these killings “have taken place in poverty-stricken communities all over the country, particularly urban centers.”
What are the charges against Duterte?
In the 50-page complaint and communication submitted to the ICC electronically, complainants alleged that Duterte has committed grave crimes against humanity in his public pronouncements ordering state security forces to carry out his anti-illegal drugs campaign.
The Rome Statute, in its Article 7, defined crimes against humanity as acts committed as part of a “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”
In the case of the complaint filed by the families of the victims of Duterte’s anti-drug war, they said the president is guilty of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians both in the form of murder and inhumane acts “being the most senior leader” and “most responsible for these crimes.”
They also noted his criminal responsibility under the principle of command responsibility, per Article 28 of the Rome Statute.
“The Complaint and Communication filed with the office of Prosecutor Bensouda aims to make President Duterte, being the most responsible, account for the crimes against humanity committed through acts of murder for the extrajudicial killing of thousands of Filipinos and other inhumane acts for causing great suffering of victims and their families under the Article 7 of the Rome Statute,” said Colmenares.
The complainants said they have satisfied the requirement of admissibility of their communication and complaint as provided in the Rome Statute’s Article 17, where the ICC said it will consider the case admissible if the State that has jurisdiction over the case is unwilling or unable to genuinely investigate and prosecute, and if the case is not sufficient gravity to justify further action by the court.
Complainants, in their complaint and communication, said that Duterte has not been investigated and prosecuted for the extrajudicial killings that he both ordered and allowed to persist. They added that the Philippine judicial system provides incumbent presidents immunity from suits, including any violations of its law on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity of 2009.
As for the gravity, the relatives of those killed in the government’s war against illegal drugs said that whether there were 4,410 persons killed per police reports or 23,000 as estimated by human rights and media groups, “the mass murder and rights violations are so grievous and so heinous and of sufficient gravity to justify further action of the court.”
They also noted that the Philippines remains a party to the Rome Statute as its withdrawal will not take effect until March 16, 2019, a year from its deposit of the notification of withdrawal from the ICC.
ICC urged to act fast on the case
During the press conference, families of the victims of the government’s war against illegal drugs urged the ICC not just to look into their complaint and communication but to also act fast on their pleas.
Dennise David, one of the complainants whose son was killed in a police operation in 2017, said the case is now “bigger than us.”
They hope that the ICC’s investigation will put the government policy ti stop dead in its track, and potentially save the lives of those who may still fall victims from it. The complaint stipulated that “it may force President Duterte to reexamine, if not abandon, his distorted notion of mass murder to solve the country‘s drug and crime problem. The intervention of the ICC will save thousands more from slaughter.”
Rise Up for Life and For Rights coordinator Rubilyn Litao said, “These killings must be stopped and justice must be served, not only for the individual families of the victims but for all of as a people. The poor have been striving hard to get out of poverty but the President’s answer buried them instead, literally and figuratively.”