First of 2 Parts
THE International Criminal Court’s demand for an investigation of alleged widespread extrajudicial killings (EJKs) during President Duterte’s war against illegal drugs (WoD) is not only an intrusion into our sovereignty. If you read the two prosecutors’ June 2021 report* recommending the probe, you will be shocked:
It is totally based on biased media reports — legally hearsay in the justice system of civilized countries.
Indeed, in its September reply to the ICC prosecutors’ report, the Office of the Solicitor General pointed out: “The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) predominantly relied on media reports… and failed to explain its lack of consideration for government’s explanations.”
The OSG argued that this violated a provision of the Rome Statute that created the ICC, which requires the OPT to “investigate incriminating and exonerating circumstances equally.”
The pre-trial chamber that ordered the investigation pursued didn’t bother to reply to the OSG’s argument. However, to hide the absurdity of an investigation based on media reports, it subsequently referred to media reports as “open sources.”
Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her recent Congress resolution, as well as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., called the ICC’s planned investigation an “insult to our sovereignty.”
Insult to nation
As worse as that: It is an insult to us as a nation, with the ICC prosecutors and the “pre-trial” thinking that we are a nation so backward and ignorant — and a pushover — that we would allow the prosecution of a past president and other police officials on the basis of biased allegations by such partisan media outfits.
If the two ICC prosecutors were fiscals in the Philippines or district attorneys in the US, they would be immediately fired for gross ignorance of the law, and stripped of their profession.
Their allegations of EJKs here were not only based entirely on media reports, but on such notoriously vehemently anti-Duterte partisan outfit as Rappler, the internet-only news website. Rappler, which was cited as a source by the ICC prosecutors 116 times, or 27 percent of the total 416 media citations..
The outfit has been run by American Filipino Maria Ressa, one of the biggest frauds and liars in the history of Philippine media. The reason for Rappler’s American funding (P50 million from 2016 to 2021) and for its vociferous campaign against Duterte, I am convinced and have argued recently**, is because of the former president’s expressed dislike toward the US and his moves to draw the country closer to America’s main adversary, China.
Especially as Duterte was extremely popular and governed the country well, the EJK issue was his vulnerability, which Rappler exploited to the hilt, as part of the failed operation to get the anti-US Duterte toppled.
Indeed, conduits for CIA-like funding such as the National Endowment for Democracy — the same entity out of similar ones that funded Ukrainian activists to depose the Ukrainian president opposed to his country’s membership in the US-controlled NATO — poured in as much dollars as they could to finance Rappler as well as other anti-Duterte outfits as Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and VERA Files.
To recommend prosecution based on media reports is completely against the rules of evidence in the Philippines, in the US, and in most countries with working legal systems. Legally, newspaper reports are considered hearsay until their contents are proven in some other ways, mainly through documentary evidence, testimonial evidence, and what’s called “real evidence” such as the weapons used in the crime.
The prosecutors’ report didn’t have a single piece of solid evidence, not a single affidavit representing direct testimony by a witness of an alleged EJK. All it quoted in its 57-page recommendation by then prosecutor Fatou Bensouda were mostly reports by Rappler, Human Rights Watch and Reuters. All of which merely quoted anonymous sources, in a few reports from relatives of victims, that there was widespread EJKs of unarmed people during Duterte’s WoD. Sorry to sound cruel, and this is well known to crime reporters, but the wife or mother of a drug pusher killed in a firefight of course would claim her husband or son is innocent.
Rather than straight journalistic pieces, these were sensationalized tabloid-style reporting, written not to present facts but to rouse outrage against the government that it was undertaking widespread, ruthless EJKs. Examples of Rappler’s tabloid reporting that the ICC swallowed hook, line, and sink with titles like: “There are snakes everywhere,” referring to killers in the anti-drug war; ‘I finish the job’: Murder in Manila”; “Impunity: This is where they do not die.” In these articles, as in most of Rappler’s pieces, only anonymous sources are quoted, except for a very few times.
More importantly there is no discussion whether these drug-related EJKs reported were isolated cases or widespread, and no mention that the Philippine National Police’s Internal Affairs Service had filed xxx against police suspected of undertaking such EJKs.
The ICC case is absurd: How can any foreign entity accuse a president elected by his people, even a former one, of crimes based on media reports. An analogy would be to call for US President Trump’s impeachment (when he was still in his post) based on CNN reports, or alternatively for current US President Joseph Biden to be removed from office based on Fox News’ coverage.
The accompanying table shows the ICC prosecutors’ report’s sources of “information” and the number of such citations for each. It indisputably shows that rather than an objective study of the Philippine situation, it is simply a cut-and-paste job collection of anti-Duterte reportage with no effort at all to validate them.
Rappler, whose editor in chief was convicted of libel in 2019, clearly stands out as the ICC’s main source for its allegations of EJKs during Durterte’s watch. Reportage of the main broadsheets in Manila that are many decades old, with track records of accuracy and objectivity — such as Manila Bulletin, Philippine Star and The Manila Times — were hardly used as a source of information by the ICC prosecutors.
Why on earth would ICC use as its main source of “information” a biased outfit (without even having a print edition) like Rappler and ignore the hundreds of other articles in other legitimate newspapers?
Because Rappler has churned out as many reports as it could painting falsely that Duterte’s WoDs resulted in widespread EJKs. Rappler has had a strong sense of impunity to post false reports, as it had undertaken a successful propaganda campaign in the US to portray its CEO and Rappler as poor victims of an authoritarian’s wrath.
In the case of citations from this newspaper, the ICC cited only articles there that bolstered the Rappler accounts of the anti-drug war. One wasn’t even a news article but an opinion piece by one anti-Duterte activist based in Australia (long fired by the newspaper) that outdid the Rappler lie of 7,000 killed in Duterte’s anti-drug war at end-December 2018.
That column claimed that government itself reported “20,000 killed.” There was no such report; that writer was lying through his teeth. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), an entity totally separate from the Philippine National Police (PNP), reported that 6,252 suspects were killed in firefights with the police from July 1, 2016 to May 31, 2022.
In contrast to the totally unsubstantiated, exaggerated figures made by such figures as then vice president Leonor Robredo and the late Human Rights Commission chairman Chito Gascon, figures independently culled by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Ateneo project “Drug Archives” do not contradict the PDEA’s count.
I’ve written more than a dozen column pieces debunking Rappler’s allegations of EJKs, one even detailing how it distorted police reports to include all homicides that a PNP unit was investigating as casualties in the anti-drug war, so it could claim at that time (December 2016) that the Duterte campaign’s death toll was 7,080 — when it was only 2,555 at that time.The ICC report did not cite that particular column of mine, nor any of my columns.
Rappler did not correct that obviously inaccurate claim.
Rappler in fact continued its tack of exaggerating the number of casualties in Duterte’s campaign. For instance, a 2018 article started off with the sentence: “After more than two years and an estimated 23,518 deaths under investigation, Rappler tells the story of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war from the eyes of the killers.”
That is the height of intellectual dishonesty, made to implicitly make a very false claim: The “23,518 deaths under investigation” were the number of homicides and murders that the PNP had been investigating at that reporting period, for all possible motives and circumstances including those due to crimes of passion, hold-ups, robberies and so on. What the PDEA reported was 4,075 killed in anti-drug operations from July 2016 to March 2018.
The numbers are important since the ICC started its investigation purportedly because of what the likes of Robredo, Gascon and US newspapers had been reporting, as if it were a fact, that “tens of thousands” were killed in the anti-drug war, when the casualties were much lower than one would expect in a campaign against illegal drug suppliers and networks. (For Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s war against illegal drugs from 2006 to 2012 of his administration, the official death toll was about 60,000.)
Indeed, to justify its initial investigation, the ICC prosecutors in the second paragraph of their report claimed: “The total number of civilians killed in connection with the War on Illegal Drugs between July 2016 and March 2019 appears to be between 12,000 and 30,000.”
The footnote for that claim pointed as its source to an article in the NGO Human Rights Watch website entitled “Philippines: Duterte’s ‘Drug War’ Claims 12,000+ Lives.” That in turn claimed as its source the Amnesty International’s 2018 Yearbook. That in turn pointed as its source “media reports”: “PDEA data indicates that police operations resulted in the deaths of 3,906 suspected drug users and dealers from July 1, 2016, to September 26, 2017. But unidentified gunmen have killed thousands more, bringing the total death toll to more than 12,000, according to credible media reports.” That AI report did not even bother to mention which “credible media reports” came up with the 12,000 figure.
It is an absurd loop, a tautology maybe: An NGO (Human Rights Watch) cites as source another NGO (Amnesty International) which then cites as its source “credible media reports.” Biased media then claims their figures are from Amnesty International.
The “30,000” maximum killed cited by the ICC is a rounding off of the “27,000” figure disseminated by the Yellows. This was first reported in a 2018 article in London’s The Guardian, which reported: “Chito Gascon, the chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, said the toll could be as high as 27,000.” Gascon, who had been a stalwart of the Liberal Party, the main opposition party to Duterte, never explained where he got that figure. The figure though became accepted as fact and repeated continuously by anti-Duterte media.
These ICC prosecutors think Filipinos are stupid. That’s more insulting than their insistence on violating our sovereignty.
I’ve never seen in my career a case in which a single lying individual successfully put down our country so much. It is certainly a case study of how powerful a US-funded media network can be.
*Office of the Prosecutor, Situation in the Republic of the Philippines, June 14, 2021, ICC-01.21
** “Marcos’ advantage: An acquiescent press,” Feb. 3, 2023.
On Wednesday, February 22: How two Filipinos got Reuters and Amnesty International to churn out misleading and even false reports on Duterte’s WoD, which the ICC also used as “evidence.”
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