“Nothing could be further from the truth than claiming that domestic institutions and mechanisms of accountability in the country are ‘fully functional.’”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Domestic human rights mechanisms in the Philippines are “ineffective and failing.”
This is the assertion of human rights group Karapatan in its reaction to the deferral request made by the Philippine government to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In a statement, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that “the reality is plain to see; domestic mechanisms are ineffective and are failing to hold perpetrators of human rights violations in the drug war accountable.”
On Nov. 18, ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan, QC notified the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Philippine government’s request and has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while assessing the scope and effect of the deferral request.
Khan said that the Philippine government through its ambassador to the Netherlands, Eduardo Malaya, formally requested to defer the investigation on Nov. 10.
In a news report, Malaya said that the government “was already looking to the alleged case of extrajudicial killings” in President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Reportedly, Malaya cited the Department of Justice’s investigation of 52 cases of deaths in the drug war and the possibility of the DOJ tapping the Administrative Order No. 35 Inter-Agency Task Force on political killings.
“Nothing could be further from the truth than claiming that domestic institutions and mechanisms of accountability in the country are ‘fully functional.’ The truth of the matter is, and it is clear to see, that they are failing time and time again — and that is proven by the simple fact that the killings continue to this day,” Palabay said in a statement on Monday, Nov. 22.
Palabay also said that the authorities are investigating 52 cases contrary to the thousands of cases under the government’s so-called war on drugs.
The government’s own data on the killings of drug suspects in police operations from July 1, 2016 to Aug. 31, 2021 is at 6,191.
“52 out of thousands already speaks of the Philippine government’s commitment to accountability, which is next to none, not to mention that the Administrative Order No. 35’s task force on extrajudicial killings still has to make any significant progress in stopping the killings of activists, human rights defenders, and journalists,” Palabay said.
The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) meanwhile said that the findings of the first and second report of the group clearly showed the flaws and failure of the domestic remedies in the Philippines.
ICHRP Chairperson Peter Murphy expressed the organization’s “extreme disappointment with the ICC decision to temporarily suspend their investigation into the Duterte government’s alleged crimes especially after the Prosecutor found credible evidence that crimes against humanity had occurred.”
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“Any suspension or delay is an absolute betrayal of those brave individuals who came forward at great personal risk to provide evidence and testimony regarding these alleged crimes,” Murphy said in a statement.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) implored the ICC Prosecutor “to deny any such deferral request and, instead, continue with the conduct of a full-blown investigation into the drug-war atrocities.”
“After five years of failing to hold perpetrators accountable for these crimes, the Duterte administration is now, suddenly, waving the DOJ investigation into some low-ranking police personnel for a handful of killings – 52 out of tens of thousands – as an indicator that domestic mechanisms are working. We know better,” the group said in a statement.
The NUPL said that this belated action of the Philippine government is an attempt at “white-washing its blood-soaked flagship program.”
“It conspicuously excludes the possibility of investigating President Duterte and other high-ranking officials who are most responsible for these crimes against humanity,” the group said.
They added that the ICC Prosecutor and the Pre-Trial Chamber were on point in their prior assessments “when they said that the crimes committed are the result of an established state policy.”
“The Philippine justice system is a significant part of that policy. Not only is it extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims. It is also, clearly, being manipulated to shield the perpetrators from liability,” the NUPL said.
ICC request for additional information
But Khan said in the notification that in the coming days, the Prosecution will request additional information from the Philippines under rule 53 of the Rules of Procedures and Evidence.
“Such additional information is necessary for the Prosecution to assess the scope and effect of the Deferral Request, and to determine whether to apply to the Pre-Trial Chamber, under article 18(2) of the Statute, for authorization to continue investigating.”
Khan also said that the “Prosecution will continue its analysis of information already in its possession, as well as of any new information it may receive from third parties, and actively assess the need for applications to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authority to conduct necessary investigative steps for the preservation of evidence under article 18(6) of the Statute.”
It will be remembered that the Duterte government’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute became final in 2019. Despite this, then ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Bensouda then sought authorization to investigate killings that took place between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 when the Philippines was still a member of the Rome Statute.