2011 to 2016 killings in Davao City among those to be probed by International Criminal Court

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /15 September) – The Pre-Trial Chamber 1 of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday granted the Prosecutor’s request to begin investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ campaign from November 1, 2011 to March 16, 2019 when the Philippines was a state party to the Rome Statute.

The investigation includes the alleged  summary killings in Davao City from November 1, 2011 until June 30, 2016, when Rodrigo Roa Duterte was Vice Mayor (2010 to 2013) and Mayor for a seventh term (2013 to 2016). Duterte took his oath as President on June 30, 2016.

The Davao City-based Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) had listed a total of 1,424 summary executions in Davao City from 1998 to December 2015. Duterte was mayor of the city from 1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010 and 2013 to 2016. But the ICC probe covers only the period when the Philippines was a state party to the Rome Statute: from November 1, 2011 to March 16, 2019.  On March 17, 2018, the Philippine government deposited a  written notification of withdrawal from the Statute which took effect a year later.

“The theory is the 2016-2019 killings follow the pattern of the Davao killings,” Law professor Tony La Vina, former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, told MindaNews.

In March 2009, the Commission on Human Rights conducted an investigation into the rise of summary executions in Davao City victimizing suspected criminals, many of them alleged drug pushers. By then, at least 800 persons had been summarily executed in the city since 1998 by a band referred to as the “Davao Death Squad.” The International Criminal Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber 1 has authorized the  Prosecutor to start investigation on alleged crimes against humanity committed during the conduct of the ‘war on drugs’  under the Duterte administration, including alleged summary killings in Davao City from 2011 to 2016.MindaNews file photo by GLOCELITO C. JAYMA

The Chamber’s authorization came three months after the June 14, 2021 request of the Prosecutor to open an investigation into the Situation in the Philippines, as provided for in Article 15(3) of the Rome Statute.

Composed of Judge Péter Kovács, Presiding Judge, Judge Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou and Judge María del Socorro Flores Liera, the Pre-Trial Chamber I  examined the Prosecutor’s request and supporting material, considered 204 victims’ representations and found “reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.”

The Chamber noted that “specific legal element of the crime against humanity of murder under Article 7(1)(a) of the Statute has been met with respect to the killings committed throughout the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign, as well as with respect to the killings in the Davao area between 1 November 2011 and 30 June 2016.”

It stressed that “based on the facts as they emerge at the present stage and subject to proper investigation and further analysis, the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation, and the killings neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation.”

“Rather, the available material indicates, to the required standard, that a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population took place pursuant to or in furtherance of a State policy, within the meaning of Article 7(1) and (2)(a) of the Statute,” the ICC’s press statement said

It said the Court retains jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes that occurred while the Philippines was still a State Party.

Davao Death Squad

The Chamber noted that since the Prosecutor alleged that crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court were committed in Davao City during the period 2011 to 2016, “the allegation and the underlying supporting material should be analyzed by the Chamber in the same way as the submissions and supporting material pertaining to the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign from 1 July 2016 onwards.”

It said it accepts that the supporting material sufficiently indicates, at the present stage, “that groups of local police officers and vigilantes perpetrated numerous killings of predominantly young men suspected of involvement in small-scale drug-dealing or minor crimes such as petty theft and drug use.”

The Chamber noted in particular the information that local enforcement units were heavily involved in its operation. “There is information that in 2011 –  2015, there were around 385 victims of extrajudicial killings in Davao.”

The Chamber said that in its assessment, “there exists information sufficiently linking the killings in the Davao area in 2011 – 2016 to the relevant facts of the so called ‘war on drugs campaign.”

It cited records of public statements by Duterte “supporting and encouraging the killing of petty criminals and drug dealers in Davao.“

“These public statements are similar to those made before and during the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign, and indeed appear to form a coherent progression,” it said.

The  Chamber also said there is “indication of the systematic involvement of security forces in the killing, including of the so-called ‘Davao death squad.”

Welcome news

Fr. Amado Picardal, who once served as CASE spokesperson,  told MindaNews that the Chamber’s decision is “a welcome news especially for the families of victims of extrajudicial killings in Davao and the rest of the country.”

“Our efforts to hold those responsible for this mass murder accountable have not been in vain. I am hopeful that justice will be served no matter how long it takes,” PIcardal said, adding that Duterte’s running for Vice President “will be futile.”

Duterte on July 17 said he would run for Vice President in the May 2022 polls because a Vice President is immune from suit. The Vice President , however, is not immune from suit.

“Neither his faithful alalay nor his daughter can save him. Meanwhile, I pray that Duterte will have a long life and I look forward to seeing him in the Hague,” he said.

La Vina said the Chamber’s decision came “faster than expected.”

“This could have taken years or many months,” La Vina said, adding that   “it could only mean there is already overwhelming evidence against those who would eventually be charged. That’s probably the President and his top police and justice officials.”

President Duterte has repeatedly said he will not allow government to cooperate with the ICC. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)