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Duterte and the ICC: Online Takes Time to Explain and Explore | CMFR

Duterte and the ICC: Online Takes Time to Explain and Explore

Screengrab from Philstar.com.


IT’S ALWAYS difficult to report on a court case as this usually involves legal terms. For non-lawyer journalists, it poses a challenge. Judicial systems involve complex processes and require terms that change according to countries and jurisdictions. What more a special court like the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

As early as March 9, Jude Sabio, lawyer of self-confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) hitman Edgar Matobato, expressed his intention to “file a case of crimes against humanity” against President Rodrigo Duterte to the ICC. The case would implicate the president for having encouraged the killing of suspected drug pushers and users in the country.

Fast forward to April 24, Sabio went to the Netherlands and submitted to the ICC a 77-page communication explaining the current situation in the country under the Duterte administration. Sabio started his narrative with the murder of at least 1,400 people, allegedly by the DDS, when Duterte was Davao City mayor. He later mentioned that the same strategy was implemented at the national level when Duterte became president. He noted the killing of at least 7,000 people linked to the illegal drug trade under the current administration.

In his submission, the lawyer said he wanted to end the killings and punish those behind them. The communication requested the Prosecutor, should he find it warranted, to investigate Duterte and 11 other government officials and police officers for their participation in the crimes, among them, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of the House of Representatives, and senators Richard Gordon and Alan Peter Cayatano. (See, FULL TEXT: Criminal complaint filed vs Duterte before the International Criminal Court).

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella dismissed the submission as a part of a smear campaign to discredit Duterte and his “success” in the war on drugs. The Malacañang official also said that the case is “not applicable” to the president because the killings are not state-sponsored.

CMFR monitored reports from three national dailies (the Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star) and four broadcast news programs (24 Oras/GMA-7, Aksyon/TV5, News Night/CNN Philippines, and TV Patrol/ABS-CBN 2), and their online counterparts and some online news organizations from April 24 to 30, 2017.

Both print and television reported the submission of information that could hold the President accountable for the drug-related killing as a simple news event. Online news organizations did better explaining what the ICC is, how it works, as well as exploring the possible outcomes of Sabio’s submission.

ICC explained

Media organizations had written about the ICC’s role and jurisdiction as well as the possible outcome of the ICC case earlier in March. However, during Sabio’s submission in April, many of the stories only carried a short background on the international court, and reported Sabio’s move only as an event.

CMFR found informative Philstar.com’s innovative visualization tracing the process and possible outcome of the “case vs. Duterte”(Explainer: What will happen to the case vs. Duterte at ICC?). It also featured an effective video backgrounder of the ICC tracing it’s establishment by the Rome Statute, a treaty to which the Philippines is a signatory along with 123 other state parties. The court, ratified in 2002, became the first international court to investigate and put on trial perpetrators of the four international crimes as classified by the Statute: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.The ICC steps in only when the State is unable or unwilling to stop the perpetration of the crimes. The court has the capability to detain people from signatory states.

As of press time, the ICC have received about 10,000 information; 40 people have already been publicly indicted; four are currently on trial; and three had been sucessfully convicted.

Complaint vs. Information

Before his submission, Sabio used the term “filing of case” to describe his move to call the ICC’s attention to the Philippine situation – which the reports also carried, using the words “filing” and “complaint.” However, the ICC process works differently. An Inquirer report on April 26 pointed out this difference (What ‘filing’ a ‘complaint’ in ICC means).

In the Philippines, the criminal action starts with the filing of a complaint affidavit with the prosecutor, who then does an investigation to determine if there is probable cause. Should it find probable cause, a case will be filed in court.

Meanwhile, at the ICC, the prosecutor accepts the submission of information by an interested party about a situation in a particular state. The ICC will evaluate the information, after which the prosecutor may decide if the situation warrants a preliminary examination, or even a full-blown investigation. Individuals do not file cases before the ICC; so Sabio’s submission should not be described as a filing of case or complaint.

Possibilities Explored

Sabio’s submission is now up for review by the ICC Prosecutor. The Prosecutor may choose to push through with an investigation if he finds it is warranted.

In order for the prosecutor to pursue the investigation, Sabio’s  submission should prove the unwillingness of the State to solve these killings, with evidence shown by govenrment’s actions or inaction.

A Rappler story written by lawyer Emil Maranon was helpful in noting that under the Philippine constitution, the incumbent president is immune to any criminal suit. He needs to be judged guilty by an impeachment court and removed as president, before he could be prosecuted in a local court. Maranon pointed out that to prove the government’s reluctance to prosecute the killings, Sabio has to show that:

  • The two proceedings (impeachment and criminal prosecution) have not been “conducted independently or impartially.”
  • There has been “unjustified delay.”
  • Their decisions were “made for the purpose of shielding [Duterte].

Media accounts of the ICC process should help the public to navigate the terrain of this special international court, clarify the difference in the way it works from specifically the way of Philippine judicial system. It should also connect the developments, the dismissal in the House of Representatives for example, of the impeachment case of Magdalo Rep.Garry Alejano on March 30.