May 1, 2023 (10:40 PM)

4 min read


With President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s recent decision for the Philippines to disengage with the International Criminal Court (ICC), it is becoming more evident that the horrors of the war on drugs and the unjust killings during its implementation are being ignored by those who should be working on getting justice.

Recently, the ICC rejected the plea of the Philippine government to suspend their ongoing investigation on the human rights violations that occurred during the war on drugs program implemented by then-president Rodrigo Duterte. With this, Marcos Jr. declared that the country will be fully disengaging from the court and will not be cooperating with the ICC’s investigation. In 2018, the Philippines left the ICC when it initiated the investigation on Duterte’s war on drugs.

Duterte’s decision to leave the ICC is a terrible decision to begin with. It stands on problematic grounds as there is no domestic mechanism that addresses the lapses pointed out by the ICC. The Philippines is the second country to withdraw from the said court after Burundi, who accused the ICC of focusing too much on African countries for prosecution. While the country’s withdrawal from ICC does not directly affect the local investigations within the country, the main problem is that the country itself has no action done to at least acknowledge the lapses and killings during the war on drugs. Instead, each case of extrajudicial killings is being treated like an isolated case, and the victims are usually being blamed for “fighting back when being arrested.”

Now that the Philippines is under a new administration, this should have been a gleam of hope for the families of the victims of extrajudicial killings. But with Marcos’s refusal to engage with the ICC regarding the matter, the road towards justice will be longer and much more difficult to reach. This move is not so surprising considering that he has expressed his agreement with Duterte’s decision since 2021, but the action still stirred controversy especially to human rights activists and families of victims. In hindsight, his response gives a reflection on his background as someone who has contributed to disinformation regarding his father’s regime.

While some cases of these unjust killings during the drug war were given attention, such as the case of the grade 11 student Kian Delos Santos, a lot more of the victims were ignored and never given the justice they deserve. His case is only one of the thousands of cases that should be addressed regarding the war on drugs. The country’s cooperation with the ICC’s investigation could have been the answer to the prayers of the victims’ families, but with the country’s disengagement, their hopes will once again be crushed.

Some senators argue that the ICC’s investigation is a disrespect to the Philippines’s sovereignty. Marcos even calls it a “threat” to sovereignty and an “intrusion to our internal matters.” It seems like the ICC thinks that the country is not capable of handling its own investigations, in which Marcos disagrees because the country has a “good justice system” according to him. However, ICC never claims to be above the law of the nation, but instead aims to try individuals who have committed serious human rights violations of international concern. The Philippines can still conduct their own investigations without the interference of the ICC. However, the gaps presented by the country in upholding human rights have incentivized the international court to steer in these lapses.

If the country does not plan on reviving its membership in the ICC, the least it could do to prove that the country indeed has a “good justice system” is to conduct its own investigation on the injustices that has occurred during Duterte’s war on drugs and to acknowledge that it was indeed a time of violence and impunity. While no internal investigation occurs within the country, the disengagement from the ICC will remain to be a burdening decision that will leave a mark on the country’s justice system. Disengaging from the ICC is disengaging from the path towards justice. The victims and their families do not deserve to be shoved aside just because their leaders refuse to accept the failures of their own program.

This article was published in the April 2023 Issue of Atenews. Read it here:

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