International Criminal Court confronts Rodrigo Duterte
F OR ONCE, Rodrigo Duterte exercised his right to remain silent. The last time the Philippine president crossed swords with the International Criminal Court (CPI) in The Hague was in June, when his prosecutors asked judges for permission to investigate him. At the time, he reacted with rejection: “Bullshit!” Yet when the court announced on September 15 that it would allow a full investigation into his war on drugs, which has claimed thousands of lives, Mr Duterte was shown to be unusually civilian.
When he finally brought up the subject, it was without naming the CPI. On September 21, the President told the UN General Assembly that the Philippine justice system would deal with any excess in its campaign. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque previously highlighted various obstacles preventing the court from trying Mr. Duterte or his law enforcement. The main one is the government’s refusal to help investigators with their investigations. But that argument ignores the possibility that next year’s presidential election may install a new administration that is less inclined to protect drug warriors from international law.
The murders in question began around the time Mr. Duterte became president in mid-2016. His campaign rhetoric had been full of calls to kill methamphetamine traffickers to save the Philippines from the narco-state. When law enforcement duly started shooting the suspects, Mr Duterte repeatedly urged them on, promising to protect them from repercussions.
As the corpses piled up, the murders came under the scrutiny of the CPIprosecutors. Mr Duterte responded to the opening of a preliminary inquiry by the court in 2018 by removing the Philippines from the CPI, although the country remained under his jurisdiction for another year. Announcing its decision this month to allow prosecutors to investigate, the court stressed that it “remains competent over alleged crimes” occurring “up to and including” the date of official departure from the Philippines. , in March 2019.
Most of the killings followed a pattern. The police would track down the suspects and demand their surrender. According to the official version, the armed and drugged traffickers would then open fire, causing the cops to retaliate and shoot the suspects – legally, as they were acting in self-defense.
After the first hundreds of accounts of this kind of tale, an alternate version began to seem more likely. In this version, told by witnesses, the police stormed the scene, slaughtered in cold blood any miserable drug addicts or petty traffickers they found there, then planted guns and packets of methamphetamine on the killed victims. to incriminate them. . Police and other law enforcement agencies admit that as of July 31 of this year, 6,181 people have been killed in their anti-drug operations since Mr. Duterte became president. Human rights watchers believe the official tally omits thousands of other killings.
The constitution limits presidents to one term, so Mr Duterte must step down at the end of his term in June. He said he would run for vice president instead. But holding this post is unlikely to grant him immunity unless he has a sympathetic successor; the two positions are elected separately.
A likely candidate for the lead role is his daughter, Sara Duterte, mayor of the southern city of Davao, although she says she has no interest in running. Another is a distant ally of Mr Duterte, Senator Manny Pacquiao, a recently retired world champion boxer, who announced his candidacy. A potentially less likeable candidate is Isko Moreno, the mayor of Manila.
Politicians more fiercely opposed to Mr Duterte and his war on drugs have yet to confirm that they will run. If they do, some might try to win votes with election promises to bring justice to the families of the dead. Although Mr Duterte has remained consistently and unprecedented in the polls, Filipinos have doubts about the extent of violence in his war on drugs. The freedom of Mr Duterte and his executors could be at stake in the election. This promises to make the competition exceptionally fierce. The president’s new civility is unlikely to last. ■
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Duterte harassed”