Marcos plans action on ICC drug investigation

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PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Wednesday met with his top legal officials to discuss the government’s next course of action on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation of his predecessor’s deadly war on drugs.

“The government’s position on the ICC investigation was the only official matter discussed,” Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message on Thursday.

The Marcos government’s chief government lawyer was the Justice secretary of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who has been accused of crimes against humanity in connection with the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

Among those present at the meeting were Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce-Enrile, Executive Secretary Victor D. Rodriguez and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Ahmed Khan last month asked the international tribunal’s pre-trial chamber to reopen the probe months after it was halted upon the Philippine government’s request.

Mr. Guevarra said he would leave it to Mr. Marcos to disclosure the state’s plans on the drug war probe.

The Hague-based international court on July 14 gave the Philippines until Sept. 8 to comment on the ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s request to resume the investigation into alleged crimes against humanity by Mr. Duterte and his officials. It also allowed victims to make written submissions through their lawyers.

Mr. Khan and fellow ICC prosecutor Colin Black were given until Sept. 22 to reply to the government’s response.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) would consult other agencies on the drug war probe, spokesperson Maria Theresita C. Daza told a livestreamed press briefing.

“For that, we’ll have to wait, but as of now, the Philippines is no longer a party to the Rome Statute,” she said. “We are in a period of transition.”

Last week, Mr. Duterte’s police chief Ronald M. Dela Rosa said he would not cooperate with the ICC probe and preferred to get tried by a local court. Now a senator, he called the International Court’s probe an insult to the Philippine judicial system.

Mr. Guevarra earlier said his office was weighing its options on how to deal with the probe and would consult with Mr. Marcos, DFA, Department of Justice (DoJ)  and international law experts.

The ICC, which tries people charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, was also set to probe vigilante-style killings in Davao City when Mr. Duterte was still its vice mayor and mayor.

Mr. Duterte canceled the Philippines’ membership in the international tribunal in 2018.

In a 53-page request to the ICC pre-trial chamber last month, Mr. Khan said the Philippines had failed to show it investigated crimes related to the campaign.

He said the chamber should issue an order on an “expedited basis.” It should “receive any further observations it considers appropriate from victims and the government of the Philippines,” he added.

Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay earlier said the investigation should be allowed for transparency’s sake.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Martin “Koko” L. Pimentel III said the Hague-based tribunal should be allowed to decide autonomously as an independent international organization.

The ICC suspended its investigation of the drug war in November as the Justice department and other agencies started looking at 52 cases involving policemen.

DoJ had only brought five of the 52 cases involving about 150 police officers to court since it started its own investigation in 2021.

Data from the Philippine government released in June 2021 showed that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations as of April 2021. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Supreme Court has released clarificatory guidelines on plea bargains in drug cases. It last issued the guidelines in 2017.

“Holding the plea bargaining in the prosecution of drugs cases goes into the very matters of fundamental constitutional rights, the court resolved to clarify the guidelines it earlier issued,” it said in a statement.

The Supreme Court during its en banc deliberations on Tuesday “reaffirmed the primacy and exclusivity of its rule-making power under the Constitution, and guaranteed its precedence in governing over the plea-bargaining process in drug cases.”

Plea bargains are agreements between the accused and prosecutors in which the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence.

In 2017, the High Court ruled that a case won’t have to run its entire course if courts approve a plea bargain.

The Justice department issued a circular in 2018 that prohibited plea bargains for drug trafficking cases.

In the updated guidelines, the High Court said judges may overrule the prosecution’s objection to a plea bargain if it does not follow the DoJ’s rules.

The court had yet to upload a copy of the resolution on its website. — John Victor D. Ordoñez