By Inday Espina-Varona
The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) says that it will continue to study complaints filed against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte despite his refusal to recognize the organization.
Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the court on March 17 after speculation grew over whether he would be prosecuted as a result of his deadly drug war.
The ICC prosecutor, however, maintained that the Philippines’ withdrawal will only become effective in March 2019, a year after the official withdrawal, and that its probe would continue.
In its annual report on investigations, the office of ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said it will pursue the process of validating at least 52 “communications” or complaints sent by Filipinos, including the families of victims of killings in anti-narcotics police operations.
Bensouda’s office placed the Philippines under Phase 2 of its work program, a preliminary investigation to find whether it has jurisdiction over crimes cited in complaints against the Philippine president.
Any further allegations of crimes filed against Duterte will also be looked at.
Families of some of the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings linked to Duterte’s war on drugs filed a suit with the ICC in August with the help of Rise Up for Rights and Life, an ecumenical church group, and the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
Nardy Sabino, convenor of Rise Up, said the ICC report “gives strength to families who have refused to be cowed by threats and insults and vilification from pursuing justice for their kin.”
“They know it is not an easy road and could take time but this is early vindication for those who stand their ground for truth and justice,” he said.
The ICC report noted that complaints filed before the prosecutor’s office have already cited 12,000 murders. The Philippine National Police has only claimed that fewer than 5,000 suspected drug users and peddlers have been killed in “legitimate police operations.”