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‘ICC ruling shows there is hope for justice’

MANILA, Philippines — The start of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged crimes against humanity is a welcome affirmation that even a head of state can be held accountable for alleged crimes even if he still has more than eight months remaining in office.

“This is a just and correct legal position as criminals cannot just get away from accountability for crimes against humanity by simply withdrawing from the court,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.

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He was referring to the ICC’s cognizance of crimes committed before the Philippines withdrew from the Rome Statute in 2019 after ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said there were reasonable grounds to believe that thousands were unlawfully killed in Duterte’s drug war.

The Duterte administration, however, has refused to cooperate with presidential spokesperson Harry Roque arguing, under the principle of complementarity, that the country is not under ICC jurisdiction because it has a legal system that prosecutes similar crimes.

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Investigation to start

But new ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, who succeeded Bensouda, announced on Wednesday that the ICC’s pretrial chamber took cognizance of the case and authorized Khan to start an official investigation.

“My investigation will seek to uncover the truth and aim to ensure accountability,” Khan said in a statement on Thursday. “I remain willing to constructively engage with national authorities in accordance with the principle of complementarity and our obligations under the [Rome] Statute,” Khan added.

The cases in the ICC were filed by relatives of the victims through the Bayan Muna party-list group and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

Neri Colmenares, chair of Bayan Muna, said the arguments of Roque and Duterte, who is also a lawyer, were uninspiring.

“Maybe it’s about time that the President abandons his legal tactic and submit his evidence and defense in the ICC that he did not order the killings of thousands of drug suspects all over the country,” Colmenares said.

Quest for justice

Colmenares filed his candidacy for senator precisely on the vow that he would press the quest for justice of the victims of the President’s drug war.

Another lawyer representing the victims, Chel Diokno, chair of FLAG, also filed his candidacy for senator on Thursday and said he remained committed to the case before the ICC.

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Diokno had earlier said that even if the Duterte administration pushes through with its threat to ban ICC prosecutors from entering the country, there are ways to properly and legally take evidence.“We still have an international legal obligation to cooperate with the court and with the prosecutor given that there is already a formal approval of the investigation,” Diokno added.

Colmenares warned that should the ICC decide to hold a trial and issue an arrest warrant against Duterte, that will be devastating on administration candidates in next year’s elections.

“Should this happen, it will have a devastating effect on the President’s candidates, further contributing to the disintegration of the administration in the twilight of his presidency,” he added.

Diokno said that if the ICC gathered sufficient evidence, it could summon the “masterminds” of the drug war, including Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who himself filed his candidacy for the presidency on Friday.

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TAGS: drug war, ICC, investigation, Karim Khan, Rodrigo Duterte
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