Families Affected by Philippines Drug War Seek Justice from ICC

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Ephraim Escudero had been missing for five days when a neighbor presented his family with a news article. The bodies of two unidentified men had been discovered in Pampanga, about five hours away from their home in Laguna, but the report contained enough distinguishing details for the family to immediately recognize one of the victims as Ephraim.

“He was hogtied. His hands were behind his back. His feet were bound with plastic and packaging tape. He also had gunshot wounds,” Ephraim’s sister Sheerah recalled. When Ephraim first disappeared in September 2017, local police showed little interest in assisting. An investigator in Pampanga suggested Ephraim may have been a casualty of the drug war initiated by then-President Rodrigo Duterte, but after the family submitted evidence, they heard nothing back.

Although drug-related killings have slowed since their peak in 2017, they have begun to rise again since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took office, according to data from the Dahas project. The project recorded 331 drug-related deaths in 2023, seven more than in 2022.

Escudero and other victims see the International Criminal Court (ICC) as their last chance for justice. With little support from the government, victims like Jane Lee, whose husband was killed in a police operation in 2017, feel abandoned. Despite hopes that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign would eliminate drug use, the killings left many innocent bystanders as “collateral damage.”

The government’s lack of support for victims and families has only worsened under Marcos. Families like Lee’s have received no assistance, and filing cases in local courts has been futile. The pending ICC investigation offers some hope for justice, but only one case against police involved in drug war killings remains active in a regional court.

Researcher Joel Ariate believes the killings will persist without significant changes in government policy. The Marcos administration has shown little commitment to addressing the issue, with Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla denying any culture of impunity in the country.

For families like Ephraim’s, the ICC represents a small ray of hope in an otherwise bleak situation. As Ephraim’s children grow older and start asking questions, his family continues to seek justice and closure for his untimely death.

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