MANILA – The Philippine government finds “deeply regrettable” the possible probe by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the country’s anti-drug campaign, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.
“The precipitate move of the Prosecutor is a blatant violation of the principle of complementarity, which is a bedrock principle of the Rome Statute,” it said in a statement.
It added that the ICC is a court of last resort and has an obligation to “respect and defer” to the primary criminal jurisdiction of the concerned country while proceedings are ongoing in the latter.
“The Philippine Government wishes to underscore that the Inter-Agency Review Panel headed by the Secretary of Justice was established to reinvestigate cases involving fatalities in the campaign against illegal drugs, and said Panel is continuing its work and should be allowed to finish such work,” it said.
Manila has taken “concrete and progressive steps” to address concerns related to the campaign and has also finalized with the United Nations a Joint Program on Human Rights (UNJP).
These efforts, DFA said, “affirm the Philippines’ adherence to human rights norms” and its “long track record of constructive engagement” with international partners on human rights protection.
“The midnight announcement by the current Prosecutor on the eve of her end of term also preempts the prerogative of her successor to make a full evaluation of the cases that he will prosecute. By her act, the outgoing Prosecutor likewise undercuts the attractiveness of the Rome Statute to States that may be considering accession,” it said.
Outgoing ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she is seeking to open an investigation into the situation in the Philippines between November 2011 and March 16, 2019.
In a document dated June 14, Bensouda said “there is a reasonable basis to believe that the Crime Against Humanity of Murder” was committed from July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019 in the anti-drug campaign.
‘Review panel, UNJP’
In a June 11 statement, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Manila had been undertaking a “judicious review” of anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred.
Citing his report before the High-Level Segment of the UN Human Rights Council’s 46th session last February, Guevarra said the review panel observed “deviation” by some law enforcement agents from the standard protocols which require coordination with other agencies and in the processing of the crime scene during anti-illegal drug operations.
“I emphasized then that the Panel’s next immediate task was to ensure that the proper disciplining authorities act upon and carry out the recommendations made by appropriate internal units for administrative and criminal action. Since that statement at the Human Rights Council, the Department of Justice and the Panel have achieved significant progress towards the fulfillment of our mandate,” he added.
Guevarra noted that the UNJP reflects the “spirit of partnership, trust-building and constructive engagement” between Manila and several nations that co-sponsored the Philippines-Iceland joint Human Rights Council 45/33 Resolution entitled “Technical cooperation and capacity-building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.”
Through the UNJP, a national referral pathway for human rights cases will be established to assist complainants in accessing domestic mechanisms.
It will also strengthen the country’s capacity to investigate and prosecute human rights and humanitarian law cases, which will all be funded by the UN for three years.
No human rights violations
Meanwhile, the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) reiterated that there are no state policies that tolerate killings and other human rights violations in relation to the government’s anti-drug campaign.
“Policy recommendations and guidelines on drug prevention and control instituted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime including those from the International Narcotics Control Board are also espoused in anti-drug policies which are in adherence to international commitments in the spirit of regional cooperation,” the DDB said in a statement.
The DDB added that it has openly presented the Philippine government’s plan of action to address the national drug abuse situation.
“A whole-of-nation approach is undertaken that unites, balances, and strengthens complementing law enforcement and public health strategies. Programs are grounded on evidence-based approaches and culturally relevant models that adhere to the rule of law, respect human rights, and support international obligations,” it said.
The DDB added that the successes of these interventions are felt on the ground as the recent household survey on the patterns and trends of drug abuse in the country reveals that 65.8 percent are aware of the government’s campaign against drugs and of those who are aware, 81.6 percent approves of the campaign while a high number of respondents also believe that the current drug situation under the present administration has slightly improved (34.7 percent) to greatly improved (45.5 percent).
“While the Philippine government strengthens the anti-drug campaign, it also reinforces the sense of accountability among front liners and duty bearers. Cases filed against erring officers are being dealt with according to the provisions of the law with corresponding sanctions and penalties as prescribed by due process,” the DDB said.
Meanwhile, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said the police force has always been compliant with President Rodrigo Duterte’s reminder to “do what is legal and right” in the conduct of anti-drug operations.
“The President has clearly told us ‘do the right thing’ but he also says that we must protect ourselves. We will also not allow ourselves to be in a situation where we will be the first to die if our lives are in danger,” he said in a press conference in Camp Crame.
Eleazar said they have turned over to the Department of Justice (DOJ) 53 case folders of incidents that resulted in the death of drug suspects in which the PNP-Internal Affairs Service (IAS) found lapses on the part of the policemen.
He said they are ready to forward to the DOJ more case folders once they have concluded their investigation and the cases have been resolved by the IAS. (PNA)