By Joemar Yubokmee
Cartoon by John Dave Poot

The International Trial Court pre-trial chamber recently announced its decision authorizing an investigation into the alleged killings during the Duterte administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.  This news is what the families of drug war victims have been yearning to hear. For them, opening the probe is a step closer to justice and a signal that the time for reckoning is near.
The decision of the ICC was based on supporting materials submitted by former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, which included official issuances by Philippine authorities, United Nations documents, investigative reports, and publications of NGOs. She contends that state actors played a role in the killings — whether in supposedly anti-drug law enforcement operations or in vigilante-style killings which allegedly involved individuals with ties to law enforcers.

Before Duterte was elected president, his terms as mayor and vice mayor of Davao City were also tainted with alleged human rights violations and alleged widespread killings. This, as 385 suspected drug offenders were killed supposedly by the so-called Davao Death Squad. The vigilante group is said to consist mainly of local police officers and vigilantes who are under his supervision.

Philippine authorities reported that only 5,526 persons were killed during police anti-drug operations but the Commission on Human Rights estimates over 27,000 deaths. In March 2019, the police conceded and told the local media that the figure is over 29,000. But regardless of the numbers, the fact remains that the administration never really denied the occurrence of these deaths but they instead cowered under the nanlaban narrative.

Malacañang had always been adamant in saying that it will not cooperate with any ICC probe, calling the proceedings politicized and insisting that the international tribunal no longer has jurisdiction over the Philippines since it has withdrawn from the Rome Statute. However, the ICC disagrees citing, “withdrawal from a treaty does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation created through the execution of the treaty before its termination.”

Greenlighting the investigation on Duterte’s bloody war against drugs gives the families of the victims hope to finally attain justice. If the Duterte administration is confident enough that the state did not sponsor the alleged extrajudicial killings to get rid of the decades-long problem of narcotics, then it should cooperate with the probe by submitting documents among others. May the investigation comes to fruition in favor of the families of the victims whose blood was shed, who lost a father, a son, a family.