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Filipino prelate backs ICC probe versus Duterte

A leading church official has challenged the Philippine government to allow officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prove that the country is able “to bring the culpable before the Bar of Justice”. 

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said the country “should not hesitate” to let ICC officials investigate the alleged violations committed during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs campaign. 

“Our sense of nationhood cannot be so fragile that it cannot allow the entry of persons clothed with international authority to make a determination for themselves that our agencies of law enforcement and prosecution are willing and able to prosecute and to try persons responsible for what can only be characterized as truly heinous assaults on human life,” Villegas said in a statement issued on October 25.

The prelate stressed the importance of truth and truth as a foundation of justice, adding that the ICC probe aims to seek truth, which is crucial for the welfare of society.

“Truth has never destroyed a nation. It is falsehood that has been the undoing of many peoples,” he said. 

The Hague-based court announced plans for an investigation in February 2018 but suspended its work in November 2021 at the request of the Philippine government.

In June last year, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said the delay was not warranted and filed an application to reopen the case.

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Villegas addressed fears that the ICC probe may appear to be a transgression of the country’s sovereignty. He said allowing the investigation is in fact “an act of sovereignty”. 

“A choice we, as a people, freely make for the sake of truth and to vindicate those who may have lost their lives, denied the processes of law that every democracy guarantees both to citizen and foreigner alike,” he said.

The prelate clarified that having confidence in officials of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is in “no way a vote of no-confidence in Philippine investigators and prosecutors”.

A United Nations report in 2021 found that 8,663 people had been killed in anti-drug operations but the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and local human rights groups say the toll could be as much as three times higher.

Human Rights Watch claimed it found evidence that police were falsifying evidence to justify unlawful killings, with Duterte continuing the “large-scale extrajudicial violence as a crime solution.”

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