Opposition: Philippines must rejoin international court


Opposition leaders on Friday appointed new Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. asked to restore the country’s membership in the International Criminal Court to strengthen defenses against human rights violations.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte, whose six-year term ended on Thursday, withdrew the country’s ratification of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, in 2019 after the Hague court opened a preliminary investigation into thousands of murders during his campaign against illegal drugs.

Critics said Duterte’s move was an attempt to hold accountability. However, the ICC prosecutor said the court still has jurisdiction over alleged crimes while the Philippines was still a member of the court.

“The more we are members of communities with shared human rights values, the better,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, referring to the prevalence of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings in the country.

Detained former Senator Leila de Lima said reinstating ICC membership would improve the country’s image and “protect people from crimes against humanity committed by state forces.”

There was no immediate response from Marcos Jr.

De Lima, one of the fiercest critics of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, has been jailed for five years on suspicion of drugs she said were invented by Duterte and his supporters to muzzle her and threaten other critics.

Arturo Lascanas, a retired police officer who previously served under Duterte when he was mayor of the southern city of Davao, said 10,000 drug suspects may have been killed in the city during Duterte’s drug crackdown there.

Duterte expanded the crackdown across the country after becoming president in mid-2016. Officials reported that more than 6,250 suspects were killed during his presidency.

Duterte has denied consenting to extrajudicial killings, but has openly threatened drug suspects with death.

Lascanas, who is in hiding outside the Philippines, said in a video interview that he is ready to testify in a possible ICC trial and provide evidence that Duterte ordered and financed many murders in Davao. Lascanas said he and other Davao police officers were involved in the Duterte-ordered killings.

An ICC investigation into the killings as a possible crime against humanity was suspended in November after the Duterte government said it was conducting its own investigation into the police. But the ICC’s chief prosecutor recently asked the court to authorize an immediate resumption of the investigation.

The ICC is a last resort for crimes that countries themselves do not want or cannot prosecute. It was officially established 20 years ago, on July 1, 2022.

Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, a group of human rights lawyers, said it is unlikely that Marcos Jr. agrees to restore the country’s ICC membership.

The president, who was sworn in on Thursday, is the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose rule was marked by massive violations of rights and looting. He was ousted in a pro-democracy uprising in 1986.

He and new vice president Sara Duterte, the daughter of the former president, have defended their father’s legacy.

“We think it’s a longshot under the current political dispensation,” Olalia said.