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Philippine cleric backs ICC investigation against Duterte

Rodrigo Duterte

By Jinky Jorgio Manila-- A Philippine church leader has expressed support for the entry of factfinders from the International Criminal Court into the Philippines to investigate alleged extrajudicial killings during the Duterte administration’s bloody "war on drugs."

Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan said allowing ICC investigators and factfinders to assess the country's willingness and ability to bring those responsible for heinous crimes to justice could be a demonstration of confidence in the nation's capacity to uphold the rule of law.

Socrates Villegas

He said a robust nation and solid institutions can withstand international scrutiny as it also demonstrates the Philippines’ commitment to upholding truth and seeking justice, regardless of any prior alliances or vested interests.

“We understand the concerns that have been voiced about what may appear to be a transgression of Philippine sovereignty. However, allowing the investigators and factfinders in can and should be an act of sovereignty—a choice we, as a people, freely make for the sake of truth and to vindicate those who may have lost their lives, denied by processes of law that every democracy guarantees both to citizen and foreigner alike!” he said in the statement released on Oct. 25.

In January this year, the ICC declared its intention to revive its investigation into possible “crimes against humanity” committed during Duterte’s presidency. More than 6,000 Filipinos, mostly poor, were killed in anti-drug operations nationalized by Duterte when he became president in 2016. Independent monitors believe that the actual death toll may be considerably higher.

But Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla criticized the ICC for what he viewed as a “political agenda” and interference in the country's freedom and sovereignty.

Villegas emphasized that the entry of ICC officials complements the efforts and capabilities of Philippine investigators and prosecutors.

“We wish to make clear that a vote of confidence for officials of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is in no way a vote of no-confidence in our Philippine investigators and prosecutors. In fact, it is our understanding that because of the principle of complementarity, the International Criminal Court does not exercise its jurisdiction when the organs of a State are willing and able to investigate, to prosecute, to try and to punish, where punishment may be merited,” the archbishop said. \

The Catholic leader’s statement is seen as a significant contribution to the ongoing debate surrounding the potential ICC inquiry into the Philippines' anti-drug campaign.

Villegas emphasized the importance of truth-seeking, noting that the Catholic Church has always strived to cherish and uphold the truth.

He highlighted the potential significance of the ICC's inquiry in shedding light on the circumstances surrounding the deaths and extrajudicial executions that occurred during the previous administration's anti-drug campaign

Both Duterte's administration and his successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., have vigorously opposed the ICC's investigation into drug war-related deaths, asserting that such investigations are unjust. The ICC initially announced plans for an investigation in February 2018 but suspended them in November 2021 at the request of the Philippine government, which claimed to be conducting its own review.


The Philippines was once a signatory to the ICC. However, Duterte canceled the country's membership when the court initiated its investigation into the drug war.

Nevertheless, under the ICC's withdrawal mechanism, the court maintains jurisdiction over crimes committed during a state's membership period. In this case, it covers the years between 2016 and 2019 when the Philippines' withdrawal was formalized.

Marcos Jr., who assumed office after Duterte, has declared that the Philippines will "disengage" from the ICC and reject its authority in matters related to national sovereignty.

In this context, Villegas' statement advocating for international scrutiny to uphold truth and justice has added another layer to the ongoing national and international conversation surrounding the Philippines' drug war and the ICC's role in seeking accountability.

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