Families of those killed in the Philippines’ drug war are hoping that a formal enquiry into alleged crimes against humanity granted earlier this week by International Criminal Court judges would result in justice for the victims.
Rights groups accuse the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte of inciting lethal violence and accusing police of mass murdering defenceless people as part of a 2016 anti-narcotics campaign.
“I am grateful that our situation and the killing of my brother are being paid attention to,” Mary Jane Gerangco, 40, told Reuters in Manila. “Our hope is that our family get justice and those who are at fault must be held accountable.”
Gerango’s younger brother was killed by police in September 2016 after being tagged as an alleged drug dealer.
The Philippine National Police issued a statement saying the accusations were repeatedly proven to be false, and that the force “neither condones nor covers up abuses and other forms of wrongdoings in our ranks.”
“Our aggressive campaign against illegal drugs will continue,” the office of the police spokesperson said noting a 64% fall in the drug-related crimes in the past five years.
Remains of seven Filipinos killed under Duterte’s bloody war on drugs were exhumed on Friday for cremation, after leases in public cemeteries north of the capital have expired.
Since Duterte assumed power in June 2016, authorities have executed over 6,100 accused drug traffickers and users. Rights groups claim that police executed individuals summarily, which the policy denies, claiming that they acted in self-defense during sting operations.
According to prosecutors’ evidence, the anti-drug campaign “cannot be considered as a legitimate law enforcement operation,” but rather a systematic attack on citizens, said judges in The Hague on Wednesday.
On Saturday, neither the presidential palace nor the police department responded to demands for comment. The Philippine government stated on Thursday that it will not participate with the ICC’s investigation and will not allow any investigators into the country.
“The opening of this investigation is a way, not only to get justice but also for them to heal and get closure,” Catholic priest Flavie Chalaf told Reuters after blessing the remains of the exhumed victims.
“If it is true that you are clean, why must you hide,” Chalaf said, addressing Duterte’s government.