MANILA: Philippine police said on Wednesday that the local authorities would proceed with their investigation into alleged abuses and extrajudicial killings under President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs,” despite the decision by International Criminal Court (ICC) to suspend its probe.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has carried out an antidrug campaign that, according to official records, has led to the deaths of more than 6,000 Filipinos. ICC prosecutors estimate the death figure to be between 12,000 and 30,000.
The ICC in September authorized a full investigation into the antidrug campaign, which it said appeared to have been “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” and could amount to crimes against humanity.
Last week, the Hague-based court announced it had suspended the investigation to assess a deferral request from the Philippine government, triggering protests from rights groups and relatives of the people killed in the antidrug drive.
“The investigation continues here through the Department of Justice,” police spokesperson Col. Roderick Alba said in a statement, adding that authorities “respect the opinion of various organizations that are calling for the resumption of the investigation of the Philippines’ drug war before the ICC.”
The Philippines Justice Department has been probing dozens of police officers suspected of criminal abuse in antidrug operations after a UN Human Rights Council report said last year the drug war was an “illegal, murderous state policy.”
Last month, the Justice Department said it had found rights abuse instances in 52 deaths reviewed under the local investigation.
The justice department probe has been criticized by Human Rights Watch. Asia director Brad Adams said last week that the probe was meant merely to “stave off ICC action.”
While it had agreed to suspend the investigation, the ICC said on Tuesday that the Philippines must provide “tangible evidence, of probative value and a sufficient degree of specificity, demonstrating that concrete and progressive investigative steps have been or are currently being undertaken.”
In response to the announcement, Duterte’s acting spokesperson, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, said the government had “yet to receive a formal request with regard to this matter.”
“We reiterate our position that the ICC has no jurisdiction to probe our campaign against illegal drugs,” he said.
Duterte pulled Manila out of the ICC in 2019 after it launched a preliminary probe into the war on drugs, but according to the court, it still has jurisdiction over crimes committed while the Philippines was still a member.