President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he takes full responsibility for his war on drugs that has killed thousands and is now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In a speech in Lucena City, Duterte said his ally and presidential candidate Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who led the drug war in 2016 as chief of the national police, was worried about the ICC probe.
“Bato is nervous because he is included in the investigation because of his Tokhang,” Duterte said in Filipino, referring to Dela Rosa by his nickname and the program in which police knocked on the doors of suspected drug users. “I told him not to worry. If there’s anyone going to prison, it would be me.”
"But it should be a Filipino court manned by a Filipino judge and me prosecuted by a Filipino prosecutor. I am willing to go to prison. There are many penal colonies anyway, I will just stay there,” he added.
Duterte was speaking at a meeting of the anti-communist task force at the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena City, Quezon.
Duterte repeated his warning to those engaged in the drug trade.
“If you destroy my country, I will really kill you. Do not ever think I will let you go. That is what I say to the ICC. I am not hiding anything. That is what I have been saying,” he said.
Duterte’s comments came after the Department of Justice released its finding on 52 cases in which drug suspects were killed by police under suspicious circumstances.
On Thursday, an official of the Department of Justice said it will only disclose the results of its review of another 300 drug war killings during police operations if President Duterte allows them to do so.
"The 300 cases we first reviewed, we submitted our report directly to the Office of the President. It is up to them when they will release that [report]," Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said, in a media briefing.
"We leave it up to them. If we receive a directive to release it from the Office of the President, then we will release it," Sugay stressed.
The DOJ official said the release of the results of the DOJ review on the 52 cases of drug war killings during police operations was authorized by the Office of the President.
The DOJ review showed at least 154 police officials violated rules of engagement and other standard operating procedures such as having a pre-operation report and coordinating the conduct of the anti-drug bust with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
The findings and recommendation of the DOJ review panel on the 52 cases have been turned over to the National Bureau of Investigation for case buildup.
However, the DOJ did not identify the more than 150 erring police officials, citing the need for due process.
Based on police records, at least 7,000 suspects were killed in anti-drug operations.
Last month, the ICC pre-trial chamber found reasonable grounds to probe the Duterte administration for alleged crimes against humanity due to systematic killing of citizens in pursuit of a state policy of waging war on illegal drugs.
Neri Colmenares of the National Union of People's Lawyers also earlier said that reviewing only 52 of 7,000 cases of drug war killings that happened in police operations is already a fatal admission on the part of the government that killing its citizens is a state policy.
President Duterte earlier said that he will prepare his defense on possible ICC indictment after he steps down from office on June 30, 2022.
Sugay said the ICC may use the data released by the Department of Justice on the 52 cases of illegal drugs operations that resulted in deaths of 56 persons.
“It’s up to them if they want to use it. It’s up to the ICC. It’s already part of open source information because it has been made public,” Sugay said.
As it released the data on the 52 cases last Wednesday, the DOJ called on witnesses to help in the prosecution of 154 policemen who allegedly committed criminal acts.
“These cases are to undergo further investigation and case buildup by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for the possible filing of criminal charges against erring police officers,” the DOJ said.
In making public data on the cases, the DOJ said that it is “inviting any witnesses or persons with first-hand information helpful to the resolution of the 52 cases to come forward and approach the NBI for the taking of their statements.”
It said the release of the circumstances and other details in the 52 cases is also meant to inform “the families and loved ones of the deceased suspects that the circumstances surrounding each incidence of death are undergoing a determination of possible criminal liabilities on the part of the erring police officers.”
Nonetheless, Sugay said the DOJ will continue to review other cases of deaths that occurred during the police anti-drug operations.
He admitted, however, that it may not be able to finish the review of thousands of cases.
“It’s so many. We have a few months to do it,” Sugay said, noting that the number of cases has already reached over 6,000.
“There are 6,000 more that have to be looked into,” he said.
With President Duterte’s term to end next year, Sugay said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had decided to select what other cases will be reviewed.
“The secretary directed that we should go after cases that took place in urban areas,” Sugay said.
He said Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar has already expressed to the DOJ his “willingness, readiness to make available the records of these cases.”
The Palace on Thursday said the investigation of the 52 drug war-related deaths shows the President is not “soft” on police officers who violate human rights.
“The decision of the DOJ proves that we are not soft because we will be filing cases against the 52. That is what Secretary Guevarra meant when he said he would refer them to the NBI for case building,” Roque said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, said there is only one rule that applies in any criminal investigation.
"It is called the rule of evidence, which should be bound by the rule of law," he said.
Once such evidence is clearly established to warrant the filing of criminal information against identified suspects.
Lacson said there is no other course of action for the Department of Justice to pursue but to take those cases to their logical conclusion, no matter the consequences.
“That being said, the role of the DOJ is crucial in showing the community of nations in general and the International Criminal Court in particular that as a civilized, democratic country, we can independently and responsibly hold criminally accountable our law enforcement officers–and their superiors, if the evidence so warrants–when they commit excesses in the performance if their sworn duties,” he said.
"And the total war against drugs should not be an exception.”