Yesterday, Jose Luis Gascon, head of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR), ‘generously’ offered to put his agency at the disposal of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is to open a “preliminary examination” into allegations made against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (photo) – in essence, that his handling of the War on Drugs resulted in extrajudicial killings (EJKs).
No surprise there. Gascon is among Duterte’s most vehement critics. Appointed by and a close friend of former president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino – whose Liberal Party (LP) Duterte roundly defeated in the elections of May 2016 – many of the claims made against the president have been lodged by the CHR as well as by members of the Liberal Party and the anti-Duterte political cult and media interests they’ve gathered around them.
Given that background, the CHR is hardly in a position to assist the ICC with any examination of information which the court has received. And the purpose of this exercise is simply that – the “collection and verification of information”. It’s not an investigation as some would like it to be seen. Allowing Gascon’s gang to get involved, therefore, would make a complete mockery of guarantees made by ICC Prosecutor, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, that: “my Office undertakes this work with full independence and impartiality”.
So far, however, while we’ve been bombarded with wild unsubstantiated claims that the War on Drugs has been responsible for the deaths of 12,000 individuals – or whatever the current alleged figure is – no proof of those numbers has ever been provided.
Sat out in The Hague in the Netherland, Ms Bensouda may be totally oblivious of the political dynamic that’s been playing out in the Philippines over the past 18 months-plus. But with that she needs to get up to speed. These allegations – virtually without exception – come from individuals and organisations that are opposed to Duterte’s presidency. They all have a political axe to grind and what they’re hoping is that they can use the ICC to remove him from power.
Alleged EJKs is simply the bullet – worth looking at first is whose fingers are on the trigger. And everyone of those – the CHR; the LP; Left-progressive groups; swathes of the domestic and international media, and the country’s Roman Catholic bishops – are all opposed to the Duterte presidency. And the reason for that is not simply some self-proclaimed righteous cause – to end the War on Drugs – it’s that Duterte has ruffled too many feathers among the country’s powerful elites. And worse, he’s reduced their power, their status and their prestige.
Basically, they want things back the way they were before Duterte arrived on the scene. The LP want to rule the country again; the CHR and other human-rights activists want that also so they’ll be back in the inner circle of the ruling class; the bishops want the flock to forsake Duterte and return to them; the progressive-Left want something similar – for the common people to stop supporting Duterte’s policies and back theirs. And the media want a pliant president in the Philippines – not one who sidelines them and refuses to take them seriously – one who kowtows to their masters, powerful Western governments and their apparatus of international institutions.
The ICC, therefore, is in danger of being high jacked and weaponised by narrow political interests and used as a kangaroo court to remove a democratically elected head of state. And the fact that there’s even a prospect for that happening brings us to our question for this weekend’s Your Forum – which is this: Should the Philippine Government withdraw its membership of the ICC? In other words, should it stop putting its hard-won democracy at risk by remaining in a club which has the potential – however slight – of effecting regime change against the people’s will.
Courtesy of Aquino, the Philippines took out ICC membership in November 2011 after becoming a signatory of the Rome Treaty which established the court. However, with the exception of Cambodia, it’s the only country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to have done that. Furthermore, of the major powers, the United States and China are not members; nor is the Russian Federation – it pulled out in November 2016. A number of other states have also torn up their membership cards.
It should also be borne in mind that the Philippines is in a very different position to Venezuela where the ICC is also undertaking a ‘preliminary examination’. Duterte is loved by the masses; Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, is despised. Last year, in October, Duterte had an 80% approval rating; in September, Maduro was stuck at 23% (in July he’d been floundering at 17%). Meanwhile, the Philippine economy under Duterte grew by 6.7% in 2017 while Venezuela’s economy is expected to contract by 6.1% this year. Inflation in the Philippines stood at 3.2% in 2017; in Venezuela it soared to 4,068%.
In short, the only dissatisfaction with Duterte comes from groups of social and political elites. It does not come from the people who democratically swept him to power. Furthermore, those voters fully support Duterte’s policies – whether that’s his campaign against the drug gangs and other criminals; his imposition of martial law in the southern region of Mindanao to defeat entrenched jihadists; his war against communist rebels hell-bent on turning the Philippines into a Southeast Asian Cuba (or a Venezuela); or, for that matter his socio-economic policies, designed to boost economic growth, seriously reduce poverty and provide for a more equitable distribution of the country’s economic gains.
Back in November 2016, The Volatilian™ suggested it was time for President Duterte to get out the Malacañang letter head and write a Dear John letter to the ICC. We’re still of that opinion but we’d like to get you reactions to this. So, don’t hold back; let us know.