After years of a blood-soaked War on Drugs, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is watching wheels of international justice begin to roll against him.
In June, Fatou Bensouda, the outgoing International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor, called for the global justice system to investigate allegations that Duterte has been conducting mass, extrajudicial killings of those who he says are selling illegal drugs in the country.
Al Jazeera reports that an independent human rights group known as INVESTIGATE PH has begun preliminary investigations that will collect testimony from people who have lost loved ones to the waves of state violence. A preliminary report already submitted to the ICC by INVESTIGATE PH includes allegations that the government hasn’t just murdered those involved with the drug trade — murders have also been carried out against political opponents of Duterte and Muslim Filipinos under the guise of “fighting terrorism.”
The Philippines government has put the number of “drug dealers” killed during operations at 6,117, but actual numbers are likely much higher. Media organizations have questioned the accuracy of these official figures in the past, and even the UN High Commissioner cited numbers recently that put the death toll at more than 8,600 — since March 2020 alone.
Law enforcement officials say that such victims became aggressive with police, occasioning their death. That is not what many families of the dead have to say about their loved ones’ demise, however.
Duterte has focused on killing drug dealers since the early days of his political career, as mayor of the city of Davao. In fact, assertions that he will crack down on crime (aka drug dealers) served as the focal point of his 2016 presidential campaign.
The country has not been a member of the International Criminal Court since 2018, when Duterte conveniently announced its withdrawal.
Infuriatingly, the president has alluded to being an illegal drug consumer himself. At a government event in 2018, he publicly stated that his schedule was so busy it was “killing,” which is why he chooses to consume cannabis. “At my age, I am not really bothered [by my busy schedule] because I take marijuana to stay awake.”
You literally can’t make this shit up. But what’s even more fucked up is that Duterte has some friendly relationships with drug dealers. Alleged large-scale operator Peter Lim has been photographed multiple times with the president.
In the past, Duterte has referred to Fatou Bensouda from the ICC as “that Black woman,” and by all appearances is quite unrepentant when it comes to his bloody administration. “You would notice that there are really persons who die almost daily because they fought back,” he said in June. He added a message to drug dealers that, given his track record, is far from an empty threat: “Do not destroy the country. I will kill you.”
The Philippines government stated that it will not be collaborating with any ICC investigation.
Look for a decision from the ICC on whether it will launch the likely official probe into Duterte’s administration by mid-August.
“I really love my sons,” one mother of the government’s victims said in INVESTIGATE PH testimony. “The pain never really goes away.”