MANILA, Philippines – Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima on Thursday, February 8, urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to “act with urgency” in the preliminary examination that they are set to conduct into the bloody war on drugs.
“Killings are still happening, it’s a factor why the preliminary examination must be treated with a sense of urgency,” De Lima said in a letter-response sent to Rappler Thursday afternoon.
Malacañang announced that the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor has sent them notice that it will conduct a preliminary examination, the very first step in the ICC’s legal process which aims to establish whether they really have jurisdiction over the case.
ICC’s jurisdiction is determined when it sees that the Philippines is “unable or unwilling” to conduct any “genuine” investigation into the issue – in this case, the accusation that President Rodrigo Duterte is accountable for the thousands killed in his flagship campaign, the police’s war on drugs.
A handful of drug war deaths have been filed in court, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in September after being pressed about the data. Among them the sensational cases of teenagers Kian delos Santos and Carl Angelo Arnaiz, where local cops have been arrested for murder and planting of evidence.
“But is the President covered in those cases? There is no investigation covering him right now,” De Lima said.
De Lima also cited the terminated investigations of the Senate into the testimonies of self-confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) hitmen Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas.
The Senator also pointed out that the Office of the Ombudsman dropped Duterte in its preliminary investigation into Matobato’s accusation that Duterte ordered the DDS to kill Jun Barsabal and Jun Pala.
“Does that indicate willingness?” De Lima said.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Philippines’ local courts can handle cases arising from the deaths in the police’s war on drugs.
“There is a petition in the Supreme Court, but look at what Solicitor General Jose Calida did, defying the order to provide full documentation of Oplan TokHang,” De Lima said, adding that Calida’s reasoning that releasing the documents would risk national security is “baloney.”
Philippine presidents, being impeachable officers, enjoy immunity from suit.
But Roque pointed out on Thursday that this should not be taken to mean that Duterte will never be prosecuted, because immunity only lasts until the end of his term.
“As we have shown the world, two of our past presidents went to jail immediately after their terms of office,” Roque said referring to former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo jailed for plunder, but who are both free and serving terms as elected officials.
De Lima said the theory of immunity must be challenged at this point, saying that the drafters of the Constitution did not anticipate “this magnitude of killings” in the hands of a “notorious president.”
De Lima said she wishes the ICC would take a look at her detention and see it as proof that the administration is unwilling to investigate accusations of crime against the President.
Duterte’s staunchest critic, De Lima was the first to investigate the DDS as a Human Rights Chairperson and it was she who led the Senate investigations into it until she was arrested and locked up on charges of engaging in the drug trade. – Rappler.com