By Inday Espina-Varon
Families of victims of drug-related killings in the Philippines have filed a suit against President Rodrigo Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity.
Lawyer Neri Colmenares, counsel for six complainants under the group Rise Up for Life and Rights, said the case was filed on Aug. 28.
“This is historic because this is the first time victims themselves are filing a case against President Durerte,” said Colmenares, a member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, retired prelate of Kalookan, told a media briefing that the government mandated to serve the people “has become the culprit behind so much suffering.”
The Catholic bishop said that even if the victims were really drug addicts, “they do not deserve death.”
The Philippine National Police have reported that at least 4,410 drug suspects have been killed during “legitimate police operations” since July 2016.
At least 23,518 murder cases have also been investigated as if they were related to the anti-narcotics war.
Bishop Iniguez said the “darkness that has engulfed the country is steadily being pushed back as more lights for truth and justice shine.”
He lauded those who filed the case and their supporters as “heroes.”
“People are waking up,” said the bishop. “You are the light, you who fight on, who dare, who show compassion for our people,” he told the families of victims during the media briefing.
‘Widespread and systematic attacks’
Complainants in the case against Duterte accused the president of personally ordering and presiding over “widespread and systematic attacks” on drug suspects.
The complaint cited killings linked to police operations and various figures under scrutiny from various human rights groups and news organizations.
The complainants also cited “inhumane acts,” including illegal searches and arrests.
“There is plenty of evidence, including numerous public statements by Duterte, during his presidential campaign and upon assuming office, of him directly ordering these killings,” said Colmenares.
The murders sprawl across all Philippine regions, said the lawyer, adding that the complainants are confident the cases involving their slain kin can prove the killings were systematic.
“There’s practically one design,” said Colmenares. “The police enter or accost suspects, they claim buy-bust operations, they claim everyone has a gun, and that everyone fought back.”
Authorities have repeatedly claimed that anti-narcotics vigilantes are behind more than 10,000 killings in the past two years.
“Our assertion is that these are state-sponsored killings. There is direct evidence that police are the killers, even in these so-called cases where the assailants are not identified,” said Colmenares.
The lawyer said Duterte’s public vilification of victims also “makes a case for a systematic program.”
“Over and over, he calls suspected drug addicts and pushers as inhuman,” said Colmenares. “Again and again, he says they deserve death.”