Justice marches on

By Artchil B. Fernandez

“The wheels of justice grind slow, but grind fine.” This ancient adage is a stern warning to Du30 and his cahoots that launched an orgy of blood and gore six years ago. Justice marches on for the victims of the gruesome carnage and it will eventually get the perpetrators of this horrendous crime against humanity.

This week the International Criminal Court (ICC) resumes its investigation of Du30’s bloody “war on drugs.” In September 2021, the ICC opened a formal inquiry on the violent and brutal flagship program of Du30 but the move was halted in November, 2021 upon the request of the Philippine government. The ICC gave the Du30 administration a chance to act on the cases and to prove it is serious in its claim that it is doing something to give justice to the victims.

In June last year, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan requested the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) of the ICC to allow him to resume his investigation on Du30’s drugs war. The request was granted this week. The ICC found that the efforts of the Philippine government “do not sufficiently, or at all, mirror the Court’s investigation” of the slaughter of thousands who perished in the “war on drugs.”

“The Chamber is therefore not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations, or is making a real or genuine effort to carry out such investigations and any subsequent criminal prosecutions…,” the ICC said. The lack of real progress in the government’s action on the first place prompted Prosecutor Karim Khan to request for the resumption of the investigation.

“After having examined the submissions and materials of the Philippines Government, and of the ICC Prosecutor, as well as the victims’ observations, the Chamber concluded that the various domestic initiatives and proceedings, assessed collectively, do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation,” the PTC concluded.

Officials of BBM slammed the decision of the ICC. “They’re insulting us. The ICC is very wrong right now because we are doing what it takes to change the situation and to build capacity in the country to be able to address all of these problems that came up before,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said, strongly blasting the decision. But he also added a conciliatory tone.  “If they want data from us, we will provide them the data … and that’s OK with us.”

Du30’s justice secretary and now BBM’s solicitor general Menardo Guevarra on the other hand plans to appeal the decision. “It is our intention to exhaust our legal remedies, more particularly elevating the matter to the ICC appeals chamber.”

Official government figures reveal that from June 2016 to July 2022, 6,252 individuals were killed in the “war on drugs.” The 2021 UN report found 8,663 were killed in the campaign while human rights groups estimated the death toll could be from 27,000 to 30,000 people.

Du30 and his co-accused insisted the ICC has no jurisdiction on the case since the Philippines already withdrew from the body in 2018 which took effect in 2019. ICC however asserts that it has jurisdiction on the case as its investigation covers the period the Philippines was a member of the ICC. The ICC even enlarged the coverage of investigation and included the time Du30 was mayor of Davao City. The time frame of probe is from November 1, 2011 when the Philippines joined the ICC to March 16, 2019 when the country’s withdrawal from the international body was finalized.

Those who butchered thousands of Filipinos in the drugs war thought they can evade responsibility for their crime against humanity by invoking technicalities like the withdrawal from ICC. Justice is coming to them and will eventually get them in different ways. Du30 and his accomplices mocked the ICC as toothless since it has no enforcement agency and has to rely on member countries to implement its decisions. This is hubris and a false assumption.

Member countries carry out ICC decisions and once summons or arrest warrants are issued, it will be hard for Du30 and his partners-in-crime to leave the country. Their movement will be severely restricted. But the moral weight of ICC decision is the most significant. An indictment is a stigma Du30 and company will carry to eternity.

Case of Du30 and company before the ICC is a litmus test of BBM’s international charm offensive and will unmask its true nature. He was trying to sell before the international audience the benign and “good” side of the Marcoses. His family was found guilty of horrific human rights violations. A court in Hawaii ordered his family to pay US$2 billion in damages to the human rights victims of the Marcos dictatorship.

BBM now faces a serious dilemma in the ICC case of Du30. If he protects Du30 and his co-accused, this will expose the fakeness of his claim that the Marcoses have changed and are now on the side of “good.”  It will unveil the falsity of the “positive” image he is trying to project before the world. Shielding Du30 from ICC will only confirm the bad reputation of the Marcoses and that they are unrepentant as ever.

If BBM cooperates with the ICC, it may enhance his image before the global community, but it will have serious political repercussions. It will mark his break with the Dutertes and could unravel the ruling coalition.  BBM is in a deep hole.

Regardless of how BBM will act on the ICC case of Du30 and co-accused, the situation demonstrates the power of justice. It will be hard for anyone to escape the claws of justice albeit the slowness of its march that at times appears not moving at all.