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EDITORIAL- Preliminary examination

It’s too early for celebration, a senator reminded critics of President Duterte. The reminder was given as the International Criminal Court officially notified Malacañang that a “preliminary examination” of a complaint filed against the President has started. The ICC took cognizance of the case brought to the court last year by lawyer Jude Sabio, who is accusing Rodrigo Duterte of “mass murder” and crimes against humanity committed when he was mayor of Davao City and now as President.

Sabio based his complaint on the story narrated to the Senate last year by Edgar Matobato, who claimed he worked for a death squad created by Duterte when he was Davao mayor. Matobato alleged that the death squad was responsible for the execution of 1,400 people and that he directly participated in a number of the killings. The Senate, noting inconsistencies in Matobato’s story, threw out his testimony.

Sabio, in his complaint, also alleged that as President, Duterte was responsible for the deaths of 7,000 people so far in a ruthless war on illegal drugs.

Malacañang has stressed that the ICC is still in the process of determining whether there is basis to proceed with a formal investigation of the complaints. The President and his officials maintain that the war on drugs is a legitimate law enforcement campaign and there is no basis for prosecuting anyone before the ICC.

The administration can bolster its case if it can show that if there has been any abuse of state power in the campaign against criminality, all the avenues for redress are fully functional. The intergovernmental ICC, which became operational in 2002, can prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. But the ICC, based in The Hague, steps in only when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute criminals.

Several policemen now face trial for the deaths of teenagers last year, but there are many other complaints of abuses that have not been acted upon. In the early stages of the war on drugs, promotions and even cash rewards awaited cops involved in drug killings. Police officers who participated in controversial operations that led to the alleged summary execution of drug suspects were reinstated and given new commands.

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The public generally supports any campaign against illegal drugs. But there are ways of waging this war that can reduce collateral damage, preserve lives and give offenders a second chance. Perhaps the ICC proceedings can deliver this message with more force.

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