Lawyer Menardo Guevarra says the country’s rejoining the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a political decision.
Guevarra, who was appointed as the government’s solicitor general after his stint as justice secretary under Rodrigo Duterte, said it was up to the new president, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., to make the decision whether to cooperate and participate in the ICC processes to reopen the investigation into the drug war killings in the country.
The ICC has given the Philippine government until Sept. 8 to make a decision to provide an observation on the planned reopening of the case after the chief prosecutor said the country was not making any progress on its own investigation.
Based on the government’s own record, more than 6,000 people had died in police anti-illegal drugs operations. All of them resisted arrests and chose to shoot it out with police officers.
These are all cases of the so-called “nanlaban” narrative that human rights groups have disputed and labeled as “extrajudicial killings” (EJK).
Only one case, which involved the execution of a school boy in Caloocan by three police officers in 2017, had resulted in a court conviction.
Guevarra, in an effort to show the government was doing something about the EJKs, reviewed about 50 cases, concluding that the police did sloppy investigation and recommending the prosecution of some police officers.
Guevarra’s efforts to review the cases betray the government’s concern that the ICC will pursue its investigation into crimes of humanity committed by Filipino officials led by former president Rodrigo Duterte.
Even if Duterte had pulled out Manila’s membership in the ICC in 2018, the Hague-based court has acquired jurisdiction over the drug war killings, as the Philippines was a member from 2012 until March 2019.
The court wanted to investigate the killings from 2012 to 2016 when Duterte was still mayor of Davao City and from 2016 to 2019 when he was president.
Whether the Philippine government will cooperate or not with the ICC, the investigation will continue.
For the thousands of victims and their families, justice remains elusive. It would be better if the Marcos government rejoined and cooperated with the ICC, resolving the issue once and for all.
But Bongbong’s hands are tied behind his back. He could not betray Sara Duterte-Carpio, the former president’s daughter who was instrumental to his election victory.
Sara would not want her own father investigated and likely prosecuted and convicted by the international court. She would resist any attempt by any court, including local courts, to hear extrajudicial killings cases during her father’s rule.
In fact, she favored her father’s signature anti-illegal drug war policy.
Marcos has recognized Sara Duterte-Carpio’s role in his election victory. Sara had led all pre-election opinion polls before the filing of candidacy in October 2021. The surveys showed she would win the presidency hands down even if Marcos ran for president.
Marcos’s numbers improved when Sara dropped out of the race, and even soared to an unreachable 60 percent when she decided to run as his vice president.
On his own, Marcos would not have won the May elections. He was greatly boosted by Sara Duterte-Carpio’s supporters. They won the elections with almost identical 31-million vote hauls.
Allowing the ICC to run after her father would be betraying the alliance – the unity ticket.
Marcos already had his own “unity” issues within his political camp. There are groups who are out to remove lawyer Vic Rodriguez from his position as “little president” because he had accumulated so much power in government, appointing people associated with him and ignoring other interest groups trying to collect political debts from Marcos.
There are rumors swirling in Marcos political circles that the president’s influential wife, Liza Araneta-Marcos, disliked Rodriguez, who had aligned with the president’s close buddy, Anton Lagdameo.
Lagdameo assumed the position of special assistant to the president, a role Senator Bong Go had under Duterte. The position was seen as more important than any Cabinet member in the government.
Last month, Rodriguez had to call for a news conference to deny he was leaving the government, less than three weeks into his position. Marcos has not said anything about the controversy.
It seemed Rodriguez’s position was still shaky but it would not look good for the Marcos administration to see some changes in the Cabinet this early when the president has not filled up all key positions.
The housing and science and technology departments are still vacant and many key agencies still have holdover officials.
The last thing Marcos would want the public to see would be infighting within his own government, and he would avoid offending his vice president by rejoining the ICC.
Rule of law and human rights are not exactly the hallmarks of the Marcos administration. He omitted these two important issues during his inaugural address and in his 73-minute State of the Nation Address before a joint session of Congress.
Marcos seems to be allergic to the issues related to corruption, rule of law, and human rights. These were the hanging issues that were not addressed during the election campaign and would probably hound him in the next six years.
Menardo Guevarra was right. The ICC issue is a political decision. Marcos would rather preserve the political status quo than do the right thing and give justice to thousands of people who died in the drug war.
Marcos does not want to rock his boat. He fears his vice president and he cannot afford to lose her support by cooperating with the ICC.
Marcos wants political stability within his government above all else, and power over values like rule of law, human rights, and justice.