International Criminal Court denied an appeal by the Philippines government to put off the resumption of the probe
Constantino de Juan’s remains being blessed by Vincentian priest Father Danny Pilario as his children look on. (Photo supplied)
The International Criminal Court rejecting the Philippine government’s appeal to suspend a probe into the ‘war on drugs’ has reignited hope among families of victims.
The ICC’s Appeals Chamber rejected the appeal on March 27 reviving hopes of justice among the families of some 29,000 people, who were killed in the anti-drug campaign of former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.
Lourdes de Juan, 36, widow of the slain drug suspect Constantino de Juan, said she had waited “long enough” to have an “independent” body investigate the killings.
“There is hope now because the investigation entity is not from the Philippines… it comes from outside… is not biased and will look at things objectively… no fabrication of documents… no burying of evidence,” de Juan said.
Her 30-year-old husband was shot dead in 2017 by masked men in Manila.
The widow said justice seemed elusive, when the government through an appeal, asked the ICC to reverse the authorization its Pre-Trial Chamber granted to its prosecutors to resume the investigation.
“I know stopping the investigation was a move [by the Philippine government] to buy time so that victims would have to wait for years,” de Juan told UCA News.
De Juan said justice may still be elusive for people like her citing efforts by the current government headed by Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to silence victims by allegedly changing the cause of death in official government records.
The former president’s daughter Sara Duterte serves as vice president in the present government and the Marcoses and the Dutertes are known political allies.
“You see, on the initial death certificate of Juan, the cause of death was bullet injuries from gunshots. But when you look at his official death certificate, the cause of death is a natural cause,” de Juan said.
De Juan accused the Philippine government of “cleaning the mess.”
Many victims have chosen to remain silent “to avoid retaliation from police,” she said.
On Sept.15, 2021, the ICC authorized an inquiry into the drug war killings but suspended it two months later after the Philippines government said it was re-examining hundreds of cases of deaths during the drug war at the hands of police, hitmen and vigilantes.
The court again authorized the reopening of the inquiry in January and in February, and the Philippine government filed an appeal and sought suspension of the investigation, arguing that the ICC had no jurisdiction over the country after its withdrawal from the Rome Statute that established the court.
Sarah Celiz, the mother of two drug suspects killed in Quezon City, welcomed the ICC move.
“When I learned about the denial of the appeal I cried. God listened to my prayer. I told my sons to whisper to God… Please Lord, not only for my sons but for the thousands of fathers, sons, and grandsons killed without due process… have mercy,” Celiz told UCA News.
Celiz recalled how her two sons were killed only six months apart in Quezon City in 2017.
Her 32-year-old son Almon “was the first to die when police conducted a raid on a community basketball court. Almon allegedly pulled out a firearm, so he was shot dead,” she said.
Then her younger son, Dicklie, 30, was summoned by police officers for investigation but witnesses claimed he was blindfolded and dragged inside a car.
“The following day we saw Dicklie’s lifeless body in a vacant lot… his face was covered by duct tape… his body had bullet holes,” she recalled.
Duterte’s staunch critic and Society of Divine Word priest Father Flavie Villanueva claimed the appeal was meant to make the victims disinterested in pursuing their case.
“Of course, the longer it takes, the better it is for Duterte. He has more chance of silencing the victims – harassing or silencing them either by threat or money,” said the priest, who is the founder of Paghilom (Healing) for drug suspects, told UCA News.
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