MANILA, Philippines (ViaNews) – Families of the victims of drug-related killings here know too well that they are lacking in both influence and resources. Still, they took up the cudgels for their loved ones as they recently sought grievance before the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for the widespread and cold-blooded murders in relation to his war on drugs.

With legal assistance from a group of human rights lawyers, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, the families of the victims of drug-related killings filed electronically a 50-page complaint and communication before the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC last week, accusing of President Duterte of being the most responsible for the widespread and systematic attacks against civilians in the form of both murder and inhumane treatment.

This is the second complaint lodged before the ICC against President Duterte. The first complaint, filed earlier this year, was in relation to the extrajudicial killings of his alleged “death squad” which operated in Davao when he was still its then tough-talking mayor.

Earlier, the Philippine government has already sent a notice of withdrawal from the ICC. Complainants, however, argued that the Philippines remains a party to the Statute until March 16, 2019, a year since the withdrawal notification was made.

But what does the recent filing reveal of both the Philippine government and the complainants?

Critics both here and abroad have long argued that the victims of President Duterte’s war against drugs only targetted the country’s poor – the alleged street peddlers of illegal drugs but nowhere in sight are the supposed drug personalities who belong to the rich and the powerful that may be behind all these.

Recently, the President’s spokesman Harry Roque was criticized over his “please surrender” pronouncement to the alleged drug lord, businessman, and reportedly a friend of no less than the president, Peter Lim, who reportedly went into hiding. Lim was even assured that he will be given a day in court. Meanwhile, in many urban poor communities, such as in places where the six named complainants hailed from, alleged drug peddlers and users are dropping dead like chickens.

Police operations in pursuit of these alleged illegal drug peddlers and users nearly always have the oft-repeated narrative – that they resisted arrest and attempted to fire at arresting officers, forcing the latter to return fire. Such does not cover thousands who have fallen victims by unidentified hitmen in – their remains are found in streets, most of them desecrated and bore signs of torture.

These victims, too, are often vilified and subjected to hate speech by President Duterte as “dregs of society” who must be killed and eliminated in many of his public pronouncements. The assailants also commit these killings in broad daylight, “showing that the perpetrators were never afraid at all of being accosted by government authorities.”

The poor, who are mostly the victims of the war against illegal drugs are, become the “perfect victim” as they “keel over helplessly in so many ways before and after the incident.”

“Poverty and poor access to justice in the Philippines soundly exacerbate the problem. In face of superior force and labyrinth processes, they are mostly clueless on how to deal with, and more so, defeat the system,” the complaint read.

The ICC is urged to act fast on this complaint as it “may force President Duterte to reexamine, if not abandon, his distorted notion of mass murder to solve the country’s drug and crime problem,” said the complainants, adding that it will “save thousands more from slaughter.”

As of this writing, President Duterte still remains adamant about continuing the war against illegal drugs and, in his pronouncement during his annual state of the nation address, he promised to intensify it and even include the lawyers defending those accused.

The police said their official account of those killed is a mere 4,410, a far cry from the 23,000 estimates of human rights groups. Still, not all 4,410 killings have been investigated, revealing the lack of interest of authorities to prosecute those behind it.

President Duterte, in fact, has promised to pardon erring police officers who would be charged before a court. As such, the country has reached the highest form of impunity, the complaint said when perpetrators commit a crime knowing that they can get away with it.

“The duty to prevent arises for a superior from the moment he acquires knowledge or has reasonable grounds to suspect that a crime is being or is about to be committed, while the duty to punish arises after the commission of the crime. President Duterte has miserably failed both to prevent and to punish the acts,” the complaint read.

Meanwhile, complainants fear of possible repercussions for the filing of the case before the ICC. Known for his use of the presidential platform to vilify illegal drug users and peddlers, no will be surprised if the families of the victims of the war on illegal drugs will be subjected to it. Still, the families of the victims maintained that the fight is now bigger than them.

Dennise David, one of the complainants said, “I don’t want others to suffer the same fate as that of my son. Despite our fear and limited resources, we will try every avenue and arena possible to ensure that.” (ViaNews)

Janess Ann Ellao
Journalist based in Manila, Philippines. Graduate student at the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication. ViaNews correspondent in Philippines. Journalist contact: