Jane Molina Lee of Rise Up for Life and for Rights (RISE UP) can still remember uttering the words, “Uuwi ka, ha?” to her husband, Michael, on the afternoon of March 20, 2017 in Bagong Silang, Caloocan. They were supposed to have dinner with their three children, but Michael never made it home that night.
He was gunned down by unknown assailants on a motorcycle and implicated in drug trade. Michael’s death was never resolved.
While it has been six years since Jane lost Michael, she has never lost hope.
On July 18, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Appeals Chamber junked the government’s petition to stop the ongoing investigation on the nature of deaths during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. The panel voted three against two in favor of continuing the probe.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Jane’s narrative is like how thousands of others were killed under the banner of the war on drugs. While there is no official number to account for the deaths (see sidebar 1), Duterte’s administration saw a heightened rate of anonymous killings and “panlalaban” under his anti-narcotics campaign dubbed Oplan Tokhang.
Former ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the killings were observed to be an initiative headed by the government. She ordered a preliminary investigation in 2018 to look into possible human rights violations. But the Duterte administration, in an effort to evade investigation, formally withdrew the Philippines the following year from the Rome Statute, the agreement that established the ICC.
“Bakit sila natatakot kung wala naman silang ginawang masama at pinagtatakpan? Imbestigasyon pa lang naman yan, hindi pa naman sila hinuhusgahan agad,” Jane told the Collegian.
But despite Duterte’s withdrawal, the Philippines is still subject to the requests of ICC, the Supreme Court wrote in a 2021 ruling. ICC’s greenlight, then, means that the investigation will still push through.
Tell Tales of Torture
The Philippine team in ICC, headed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), argued that local courts remain capable of handling the investigation, making the ICC probe unnecessary.
But the prosecution, now led by British human rights lawyer Karim Khan, countered that the only way for the ICC to step aside is if the government can genuinely probe into the human rights violations.
“By ratifying the [Rome] Statute, the Philippines explicitly accepted the jurisdiction of the Court, within the limits mandated by the treaty, and pursuant to how the system of complementarity functions,” the chamber wrote in its 77-page decision.
Jane’s fellow RISE UP member, Llore Pasco, also lost her two sons in a drug operation in May 2017. The autopsy of Llore's children showed that they sustained at least seven gunshots each.
“Ang sakit mawalan ng anak, yun pa kayang dalawa na sabay,” she said. “Tapos maliban sa tama ng bala, naka-posas pa raw pala sila noong nakuha sila sa [Pook] Arboretum.”
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, however, said that ICC’s decision does not have any effect.
“[A]ng gagawin nila ay usurpation of authority ng Philippine government. Pag ginawa nila yan, they'll be violating our law and our legal system,” Remulla said in a press conference on July 19.
But the scope of Khan’s investigation is from 2011 until 2019–years when the Philippines was still a member of ICC. This means that the prosecution can still unveil the doings under Oplan Tokhang. Should Khan find probable cause to press charges, an official complaint can be lodged, and a warrant of arrest for drug war’s architects may be requested (see sidebar 2).