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ICC prosecutor pushes probe on drug war

The Hague, Netherlands—The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday she wants to open a full investigation into murders during the Philippines' war on drugs, in one of her last acts before stepping down this week.

"Today, I announce that the preliminary examination into the situation in the Republic of the Philippines has concluded and that I have requested judicial authorisation to proceed with an investigation," Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.

"I have determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed... in the context of the Government of Philippines 'war on drugs' campaign" between July 2016 and March 2019, she said.

Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International and former UN special rapporteur, said in a statement: "This announcement is a moment of hope for thousands of families in the Philippines who are grieving those lost to the government’s so-called 'war on drugs'. This is a much-awaited step in putting murderous incitement by President Duterte and his administration to an end."

However, President Rodrigo Duterte continued to defend his administration’s war on drugs. He said in his televised briefing Monday: “We only have fatalities now because the police only started operating during my term. Why? Because they (police) were afraid of being slapped with cases.”

“Shabu dealing remains rampant. It is a big business. If you don't want to help, then please just stop threatening the police with cases or opening of records. Don't push for the opening of records. You might find your name there,” Duterte added.

In a related development, the Office of the Ombudsman has upheld it previous decision indicting some police officers for homicide charges in connection with the killing of a father and son inside their home in Caloocan in 2016.

The Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) rejected the motions for reconsideration filed by the respondents and the complainant over a resolution in January 2020 that recommended the filing of homicide charges against four policemen.

The policemen maintained the fatalities -- Luis Bonifacio and son Gabriel Lois -- resisted arrest during an anti-drug operation on Sept. 15, 2016.

The Philippines pulled out of the Hague-based ICC, the world's only permanent war crimes court, in 2019, but the prosecutor said that it could still investigate crimes committed during the period it was a member.

Manila moved to quit after the tribunal launched a preliminary examination in 2018 into President Rodrigo Duterte's drug crackdown that has killed thousands and drawn international censure.

Bensouda's term of office ends on Tuesday, and "any authorised investigation in the Philippines will fall to my able successor, Mr Karim Khan, to take forward," she said.

Britain's Khan takes over from Bensouda as ICC prosecutor on Wednesday.

Mary Ann Domingo, Luis’ wife, claimed the police officers broke into their home at 12:30 a.m. and ordered her and her three children to get out of their house.

She said her husband was on his knees, while Gabriel pleaded not to harm his father.

Domingo accused the policemen of shooting to death her spouse and son, prompting her to file murder and robbery charges against 20 policemen before the Ombudsman.

Not long after, she heard gunshots from inside their house — finding her husband and child killed by multiple gunshots, based on hospital records.

In January last year, MOLEO junked the murder and homicide charges against the policemen but indicted four police officers with two counts of homicide.

Master Sgt. Virgilio Cervantes, Cpl. Arnel De Guzman, Cpl. Johnston Alacre, and Cpl. Artemio Saguros, Jr. were found to have fired at Luis and Gabriel, claiming their act as self-defense.

“By their admission and the physical evidence on record, such as the multiple gunshot wounds inflicted on Luis and Gabriel, it clearly appears that their action was not merely a call of self-preservation but a determined effort to kill the latter,” the Ombudsman said.

“The law does not clothe police officers with authority to arbitrarily judge the necessity to kill. It may be true that police officers sometimes find themselves in a dilemma when pressured by a situation where an immediate and decisive, but legal, action is needed,” it said.

The Ombudsman, however, maintained that the case was only homicide and not murder. With Rio N. Araja

Topics: Fatou Bensouda , war on drugs , International Criminal Court , Agnes Callamard
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