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ICC Opens Full Investigation Into Philippine War on Drugs

The International Criminal Court (ICC) approved opening an investigation into crimes that may have been committed in the Philippines during its drug war, as allegations arise of thousands of civilian murders under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. 

Duterte said his government will not cooperate with the investigation, nor will it allow investigators into the country, according to Reuters.  

The three judges for the court, which is based in the Hague, The Netherlands, ruled that Duterte’s anti-drug efforts were used as “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” of the Philippines, according to a 15 September press release 

The court added, “...the so-called 'war on drugs' campaign cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation, and the killings neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation.” 

The decision comes after prosecutors have presented evidence calling for a formal investigation since 2018.  

“Salvador Panelo, a lawyer for [Duterte], reiterated on Thursday the president’s stance that the court had no authority to investigate him,” The New York Times reported. “Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the treaty that established the tribunal after it began its preliminary investigation [into the extrajudicial killings].” 

Philippine national police reported killing more than 6,000 people suspected of being involved in drugs since Duterte was elected in 2016.  

“But rights groups estimate the number of victims could be four times that,” NPR reported, with additional people killed by vigilantes who support Duterte’s administration.  

The court said the investigation would also look into murders in Davao, Philippines, while Duterte was mayor of the city from 2011 to 2016. Duterte is accused of using a death squad against suspected drug dealers, addicts, and political rivals.  

“However, court watchers say it's not unusual for justice before the ICC to take years,” NPR added 

Duterte’s presidential term ends next June, and reports are already indicating that he is searching for a successor who will protect him from the ICC’s prosecution, or that he will attempt to remain influential through another position of power in the government.  

Analysts speculate his preferred replacements would be either Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, or his aide Christopher “Bong” Go, who the Washington Post reported is expected to run as his successor for the next term.  

And while the international community objects to the bloody outcome of the anti-drug campaign, in the Philippines it’s seen as successful and popular.  “The reasons are manifold, but they hinge on Filipinos’ apparent willingness to overlook the death toll as long as Duterte’s government satisfies their individual economic and political interests, analysts say,” the Post reported