March 23, 2023 — With the reopening of the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s investigation on “crimes against humanity” in the Philippines, Atty. Neri Colmenares of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, spoke on the Duterte administration’s War on Drugs (Oplan Tokhang) in a forum held on March 22 at the UP Manila College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Theater.
Themed “Probing the Killings: The Philippines’ War on Drugs and Its Consequences on Human Rights”, the forum delved into the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) during the previous administration and reviewed the progress of the filed complaints against Duterte in the ICC.
According to the ICC definition, a crime against humanity is a “widespread systematic attack directed against a civilian population in any form of inhumane act which includes extrajudicial killing or unlawful and deliberate killing of targeted individuals or groups carried out by the agents of the State.”
Given these criteria, Colmenares stressed that there is enough evidence to indict Duterte and the Philippine National Police (PNP) of EJKs during the implementation of the Oplan Tokhang. These include (1) direct evidence and testimony of witnesses, (2) pattern of evidence showing state-sponsored EJKs, (3) public condemnation before the attacks on the victims, (4) brazenness of EJKs committed in public places, and (5) complete lack of interest of the government to hold investigations and prosecutions.
The ICC probe reopening dated January 26, 2023 sheds hope for human rights advocates in the Philippines and for the families of EJK victims who pushed through with their filed cases despite persistent attempts of the Philippine government to discard their complaints in the international court.
On March 17, 2019, the Philippines withdrew its ICC membership and advised victims to instead file their cases in the proper courts. The call was unheeded because they believed at that time that the cases would be dropped due to Duterte’s presidential immunity.
“Human rights transcend borders… May pag-asa tayong manalo,” Colmenares emphasized as he encouraged everyone to take their own parts in the battle against injustice and abuse in the Philippines.
The forum was also marked by the recall of prominent EJK stories during the Duterte administration led by Ms. Rubilyn Litao from Rise Up for Life and for Rights (RULR). With her was Nanay Llore Pasco, a mother of two sons both killed by the police in the Oplan Tokhang, who relived her pains and traumatic experiences during her testimonial.
Ms. Rubilyn Litao from Rise Up for Life and for Rights (RULR)
Nanay Llore Pasco, a mother of EJK victims, detailing her experiences six years ago when her two sons were brutally killed by some members of the Quezon City police
A CAS student, during the open forum, also surprisingly shared his story as one of the children whose father was killed by the police in their own home. He said that the event helped him see a glimpse of justice for his father.
“The unresolved spate of killings under the pretext of the government-led war on drugs continue to haunt all of us. Research and reports on Tokhang-related deaths peg it to at least 6,000 to 30,000 people”, UP Faculty Regent Ramota stated.
Atty. Neri Colmenares with the students of UP Manila Political Science Program and staff of the Department of Social Sciences
The forum was organized by the UP Manila Political Sciences Class 14-WBD as part of the UP Manila Political Science Week and in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UP Manila CAS Department of Social Sciences.
Francis Nicole G. Maga