Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas (File photo by Valere Jane R. Callorena/ The Varsitarian)

LINGAYEN-DAGUPAN Archbishop Socrates Villegas, a staunch critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, urged the Philippine government to allow prosecutors from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to enter the country to investigate the deadly anti-narcotics campaign that had claimed thousands of lives.

In a statement released on Oct. 25, Villegas underscored the need to “ferret out the truth” and hold erring officials accountable for the deaths of over 6,000 victims of the drug war based on data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. 

“Truth has never destroyed a nation,” he said. “It is falsehood that has been the undoing of many peoples,” he said.

“Our sense of nationhood cannot be so fragile that it cannot allow the entry of persons clothed with international authority to make a determination for themselves that our agencies of law enforcement and prosecution are willing and able to prosecute and to try persons responsible for what can only be characterized as truly heinous assaults on human life,” he added.

The ICC investigation has been a thorn in the side of Duterte – and his successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – since then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary examination in 2018 over the “extrajudicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”

The examination also covered the killings perpetrated by the so-called “Davao Death Squad,” allegedly linked to Duterte, between 2011 and 2016 when the strongman was still mayor of Davao City.

In September 2021, the chamber’s judges found basis to probe Duterte and his subordinates. Despite attempts by the Duterte and Marcos administrations to block the investigation, the ICC voted to proceed with the inquiry.

Duterte, who vowed never to apologize to drug war victims, maintained that he would only face a trial in front of a Filipino judge. Marcos, who voted in the Senate to ratify the Rome Statute that established the ICC, cut all communication lines with the chamber with the belief that it no longer held any jurisdiction over the Philippines.

Villegas, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), argued allowing ICC prosecutors to step on Philippine soil is in itself “an act of sovereignty.”

“Allowing the investigators and factfinders in can and should be an act of sovereignty – a choice we, as a people, freely make for the sake of truth and to vindicate those who may have lost their lives, denied by process of law that every democracy guarantees both to citizen and foreigner alike!” he said.

Villegas, in the past, issued some of the strongest statements condemning the drug war from a Church official.

“From a generation of drug addicts, shall we become a generation of street murderers?” he asked in a statement in 2016.

In 2017, he chided some Catholics who remained silent in the face of violence engulfing the slums and the streets.

“The Church must either be at the forefront of the intense and fervent struggle against a culture of death or the Church betrays Christ,” he said.

His outspokenness led to allegations in 2019 that he and more than 30 opposition figures were plotting to oust Duterte. The Department of Justice eventually cleared him and several respondents, including Vice President Leni Robredo and CBCP President Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

But that didn’t stop him from asking in a Facebook post: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord […] Was I wrong?” Sheila May S. Balagan


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