ICC’s resumption of probe on Duterte’s war on drugs includes Davao killings from 2011 to 2016

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 June) – The Philippine government’s request for deferment of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) probe on killings allegedly done under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs is “not warranted” and investigation “should resume as quickly as possible,” citing among others, that the Philippine government “has not asserted that it is investigating any conduct occurring in Davao from 2011 to 2016, any crimes other than murder, any killings outside official police operations, any responsibility of mid- or high-level perpetrators, or any systematic conduct or State policy,”  ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said. 

In September last year, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber 1 granted the Prosecutor’s request to begin investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity in the context of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ campaign from November 1, 2011 to March 16, 2019 when the Philippines was a state party to the Rome Statute.

International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. Photo courtesy of ICC website

The investigation includes the alleged  summary killings in Davao City from November 1, 2011 until June 30, 2016, when Rodrigo Rao 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 and will step down after a six-year term on June 30, 2022. 

Outgoing Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who took her oath on June 19 as the country’s 15th Vice President and who will assume that post on June 30, was Davao City mayor from 2010 to 2013. 

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.

“After a careful and thorough review of all the information provided by the Philippines, as well as other information available publicly…I have concluded that the deferral requested by the Philippines is not warranted, and that the investigation should resume as quickly as possible,” Khan said in a statement on Friday, six days before President Duterte steps down from office. 

On November 10, 2021, the Philippine Government requested that the probe into the Philippine situation be deferred “on the basis that national authorities were investigating, or had already investigated, alleged murders falling within the parameters of Pre-Trial Chamber I’s authorization decision.”

Khan said his office suspended the investigative activities while considering the Philippines’ request and engaged with Philippine authorities with detailed requests for additional information. 

He commended the Philippine government for submitting additional information to his office in December 2021 and March 2022.

He said the probe should resume immediately because majority of the information provided by the Philippine Government “relates to administrative and other non-penal processes and proceedings which do not seek to establish criminal responsibility, and therefore cannot warrant deferral of the ICC’s criminal investigation.”

Justice to victims

“The various proceedings referenced by the Philippines also fail to sufficiently mirror the authorized ICC investigation, as required by articles 17 and 18 of the Rome Statute, because the Philippines has not asserted that it is investigating any conduct occurring in Davao from 2011 to 2016, any crimes other than murder, any killings outside official police operations, any responsibility of mid- or high-level perpetrators, or any systematic conduct or State policy,” Khan said. 

Karim Khan, ICC Prosecutor. Photo courtesy of ICC

He added that “with a handful of exceptions,” the Philippine government “failed to provide any documentation to substantiate that the investigations are ongoing or complete, nor any details regarding concrete investigative or prosecutorial steps that have been taken.”

“In my letter, I made clear – and I repeat here now – that I remain ready and willing to continue the productive dialogue we have had since November 2021, and to explore ways in which, moving forward, we can effectively cooperate to deliver justice to victims in the Philippines.”

Khan cited the Commission on Human Rights’ report on its investigation into drug-related killings across all administrative regions from 2016 through 2021, finding that the government “failed in its obligation to respect and protect the human rights of every citizen, in particular, victims of drug-related killings” and “has encouraged a culture of impunity that shields perpetrators from being held to account.”

Khan said publicly available information and communications submitted to the Prosecution by civil society organizations also underline the need for an ICC investigation. 

Without the investigation, “the Prosecution submits that there is a real risk that Rome Statute crimes committed in the Philippines will go un-investigated and unpunished,” Khan said in his June 24 “Situation in the Republic of the Philippines” report to the Pre-Trial Chamber 1. 

Khan requested the chamber to issue an order, on an expedited basis, setting out the procedure to be followed in deciding on his request to resume probe, receive any further observations it considers appropriate from victims and the Philippine government and authorize the resumption of the Court’s investigation in the Situation in the Philippines, notwithstanding the deferral request.

“Booster shot” for accountability 

Maria Elena Vignoli, senior counsel of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, said the ICC prosecutor’s request to resume the probe on Duterte’s war on drugs “is a booster shot for accountability.”

“The government has not been serious about justice for these crimes while the victims’ families grieve without redress and those responsible face no consequences,” she said.  

The summary killings in Davao City had hounded the Duterte administration since the 1990s when the Davao Death Squad (DDS) was first reported to have summarily executed suspected drug users and pushers and petty criminals. Then mayor Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly denied allegations that the killings were state-sponsored. 

In August 2011, when MindaNews asked then first-term mayor Sara Duterte on the DDS killings, she replied: “The DDS issue, I always say when  I am asked, this has never been proven to exist. If there are questions about crime, it has to be under the police because this is their turf. If there are unsolved crimes, the Police Director should answer. In fact, now in the Davao City Police Office, we tell them, learn your lessons. I was just a bystander during the Commission on Human Rights  investigation (in 2009 on the DDS killings). But I saw their (police) mistakes. They couldn’t answer. So I told the Davao City police, when you do your data, your listing, reporting, you should segregate.”

“For example, where did this happen, weapon used. Gunshot?  Suspected perpetrator? What were the actions taken. I told them fix your reporting system. They have done so. Now it’s easy to see. In the past, they would lump murder and homicide together. Now I ask them, how many unsolved killings? What category? Is the perpetrator identified or not? Riding a motorbike? In tandem or single?  Stabbed or gunned down?  It’s segregated now. It can still be segregated further. This is just for Davao City because I required the city director,” she said. 

She said the segregation of data was in response to the complaints on extrajudicial killings. “Because it’s hard to say 800 unsolved killings (from 1988 to early 2009, according to Human Rights Watch report in April 2009). So now in listing the incidents, it is indicated who is the victim, who did it or could have done it, including their aliases, example alias Boy, alias Jun. What were the actions taken by the police. Were the suspects arrested? Not yet?”

In October 2016, on the first year of Duterte as President, the Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights and Dangerous Drugs and Public Order probed the drugs-related extrajudicial killings, including those in Davao City. The joint committees summoned several police officers in Davao City to the hearings in Manila, all of whom denied the allegations of self-confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) hitman Edgar Matobato that Duterte was behind the killings. 

On February 20, 2017, SPO3 Arthur Lascañas who had retired from the police force two months earlier, made a public confession that the DDS is real and not a “media hype” as he said so in the Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings in October 2016. 

Retired SPO3 Arturo Lascanas testifies before the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs on March 6, 2017 on the Davao Death Squad (DDS). On October 3, 2016, he testified that the Davao Death Squad is only a “media hype” and that self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato who alleged that then mayor Rodrigo Duterte was behind the DDS, was a liar. Photo by Albert Calvelo / Senate of the Philippines

“Totoo po ang existence ng Davao Death Squad o DDS. Si Edgar (Matobato)  po ay isa sa miyembro namin at isa po ako sa pasimuno nito” (The existence of the DDS is real. Edgar was a member and I was one of the leaders),  said Lascañas.

Lascañas, who served in the Anti-Organized Crime section of the Davao City police in 1990 and the Heinous Crimes section from 2001 to 2010, confessed that Mayor Duterte was paying them  PhP 20,000,  PhP 50,000 or PhP 100,00 pesos after a successful kill mission is executed, the victim buried or thrown to the sea. 

The amount paid depends on the “status of the target,” he said.

“Nothing but vicious politics,” Presidential communications secretary Martin Andanar immediately said of Lascanas’ turnaround, adding the Commission of Human Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Senate Committee on Justice “already cleared the President of extrajudicial killing and his involvement in the Davao Death Squad.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)