We can’t wait for Int’l Criminal Court | Inquirer Opinion
Sisyphus’ Lament

We can’t wait for Int’l Criminal Court

The greatest shame for any self-respecting family is for outsiders to interfere in its affairs. Should not a nation thus uphold its own laws instead of the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced a preliminary examination of the war on drugs since President Duterte took office in July 2016. The ICC takes over when a country is unwilling or unable to prosecute crimes against humanity.

But recall two lawsuits.

First, CenterLaw’s young human rights lawyers filed an innovative writ of amparo petition last October. They sought a protection order for San Andres Bukid, Manila’s second most congested slum district.


Amparo is not criminal prosecution. A judge can issue it immediately, without the evidence for a trial. I praised it as “the blueprint for anti-tokhang cases all over the country” (“CenterLaw: Philippine National Police’s worst nightmare,” 11/29/2017).

CenterLaw spent months painstakingly documenting actual San Andres Bukid deaths, as told by victims’ relatives and neighbors. Attacks occurred in a “kill time” between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., involved uniformed police stationed nearby, and were never investigated.

CenterLaw took pains to be apolitical. It sought answers for specific killings, not a broad indictment of our government.

The case gained traction. Now acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio demanded documentation for over 3,000 deaths, from barangay drug lists to police operation reports. Solicitor General Jose Calida refused, invoking national security.


Second, lawyer Jude Sabio sent a letter, “The situation of mass murder in the Philippines,” to Bensouda last April.

Media inexplicably perpetuates the stupidity that Sabio caused the ICC investigation.


Even retired chief justice Artemio Panganiban refuted this stupidity: an ICC examination is not initiated by a complaint, unlike Philippine criminal cases. Bensouda never mentioned Sabio.

The letter is pointless. Its 76 pages of verbosity and inelegantly formatted citations cite mainly URLs to news articles—the same basic flaw of the Gadon impeachment complaint against our Chief Justice.

Its only sworn statements were by confessed hit men SPO3 Arturo Lascañas and Edgar Matobato, which were already made public before the Senate last February. Sabio details “Davao Death Squad” murders since 1998, which are not directly relevant in investigating 2016 onward.

So, first, we have CenterLaw’s trailblazing, meticulously researched petition before a Philippine judge of Carpio’s renown. Second, we have Sabio’s badly framed letter with no research to the ICC.

In perverse colonial mentality, Filipinos focus on Sabio’s URLs and ignore CenterLaw’s affidavits—initial news reports on the hearings did not even mention CenterLaw, instead championing another group’s extremely weak arguments.

We debate our ICC withdrawal, yet astoundingly ignore Carpio’s demand for all drug war documents.

President Duterte is right that the price of an ICC prosecution is the surrender of our national dignity. The ICC is a last resort for failed states.

After our withdrawal from the ICC, it is even more crucial to demonstrate that Carpio is in charge. ICC critics should be the first to push for a fair hearing for CenterLaw, to hold all rogue policemen accountable.

This is far stronger legal basis than withdrawal for telling Bensouda to stay out of Philippine affairs.

Even if CenterLaw is not fairly heard, it will still have produced real evidence beyond Sabio’s URLs.

Our ICC withdrawal is a national tragedy. We cannot undermine our future invocations of international law, from our West Philippine Sea dispute to treatment of overseas Filipino workers. Judge Raul Pangalangan cannot be the last Filipino ICC judge when his term ends in 2021.

It is easy for a country to assert sovereignty. It is far harder to win respect, something every Filipino feels when he sets out abroad.

If only out of the pride any family knows, we must empower our own judges and not be too eager to see Filipinos tried by foreign courts.

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TAGS: drug killings, EJKs, extrajudicial killings, Fatou Bensouda, ICC, International Criminal Court, Oscar Franklin Tan, Rodrigo Duterte, Sisyphus’ Lament, war on drugs

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