The coming reckoning
However much the Palace and its minions may wish to dismiss and disparage outgoing International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s announcement early this week—that her “preliminary examination into the situation of the Philippines has concluded,” and that she has “requested judicial authorization (from the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber or PTC) to proceed with an investigation” into the drug-related killings under the Duterte administration—the news represented an electrifying development.
For relatives of thousands of drug suspects “neutralized” without due process, the ICC prosecutor’s announcement is a significant step toward long overdue accountability. Others may call it karma, the slow mills of the gods grinding exceedingly fine, or the coming reckoning for the regime of violence and abuse that had been unleashed on the land in the last five years.
Should the PTC give the ICC its go signal for the investigation, Mr. Duterte may end up becoming the first Asian leader to be hauled before an international court for “crimes against humanity.”
While Malacañang has made much of the country’s withdrawal from the ICC in March 2018 shortly after Bensouda started her examination of the Philippine situation on Feb. 8, 2018, the fact is, the Court retains jurisdiction over crimes alleged to have taken place while the State was still a member of the Rome Statute that established the ICC. “Moreover, these crimes are not subject to any statute of limitation,” the ICC prosecutor pointed out.
Malacañang has expectedly denounced the ICC findings as “politically motivated” and based on “hearsay,” but there’s no denying that extrajudicial killings (EJK)—most of them drug-related—remain the stuff of current news headlines. Instances of police brutality continue unabated, essentially substantiating the ICC’s contention that such impunity has flourished under an administration whose leader has, on many occasions, led the calls to “kill, kill, kill” in the name of law and order.
On the same day that the ICC made its announcement, the Office of the Ombudsman affirmed an earlier ruling finding probable cause to file homicide charges against several cops involved in the killing of a father and son inside their home in Caloocan in 2016. For supposedly resisting arrest, police shot Luis Bonifacio and son Gabriel Lois in an anti-drug operation on Sept. 15, 2016. However, the sheer number of bullet wounds on vital parts of the victims negated that claim, according to the Deputy Ombudsman: “It clearly appears that (the police’s) action was not merely a call (for) self-preservation but a determined effort to kill.”
Last week, more sordid details of police misconduct were detailed by witness Jose Senario, who told a Senate hearing on the ambush of Calbayog, Samar mayor Ronaldo Aquino that the police had hatched the plot to kill the mayor and link him to illegal drugs, contrary to the police narrative that it was a shootout. Citing Senario’s statement and based on the affidavits of 53 witnesses, CCTV footage, and personal videos provided by those near the scene, the National Bureau of Investigation Eastern Visayas said it was filing multiple murder and frustrated murder charges against several police officers involved in the operation.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra himself had to own up to the egregious lapses in police procedures before the United Nations Human Rights Council in February this year. Guevarra said that despite the police’s shopworn claims of “self-defense” or “shootout,” there were no full examinations made on the weapons allegedly used by the suspects, nor was there any effort to verify the weapons’ ownership. “The law enforcement agents involved also failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and the processing of the crime scene,” he admitted.
Such was the case in the August 2017 “one time big time” simultaneous police operation in Bulacan where 32 people were killed while 109 drug suspects were arrested. But more chilling was President Duterte’s reaction to the mass killings: “That’s good. If you could just kill another 32 everyday, then maybe we can reduce what ails the country.”
Another memorable statement by Mr. Duterte, made in September 2018: “My only sin is EJK.” Such damning utterances have likely made it to Bensouda’s 57-page report, showing how the killings of civilians have seemingly become state policy under the current dispensation. The international scrutiny should also take into account the words of presidential mouthpiece Harry Roque, who, in brushing off the ICC prosecutor’s submission, said that the thousands of mostly poor Filipinos killed in the drug war were “collateral damage.” Roque et al. should talk some more—the more they do, the more their expressions of callousness and cruelty only validate this case’s premise: that the environment of impunity emanates from the very top.
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