Why Bato dela Rosa needs to be investigated by the International Criminal Court

Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa is threatening to deport International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators who enter the Philippines to probe the alleged crimes against humanity committed by the former regime of President Rodrigo Duterte – an administration which Dela Rosa served as the police chief.

As chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Dela Rosa was also chief enforcer of the former president’s infamous and fraudulent war on drugs. It is that government program, which saw the killing of thousands of Filipinos – many of whom were found to be innocent – that the ICC has begun an investigation into.

Given Dela Rosa’s pivotal role in the drug war operations, it is necessary for him to be investigated by the ICC himself. This also explains the incumbent senator’s apprehension about ICC investigators entering the Philippines.

Ronald Bato dela Rosa war on drugs Karl Romano Benar News
Before becoming a senator in 2019, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa was the police chief under President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo: Karl Romano/Benar News)

The war on drugs was the centerpiece of President Duterte’s campaign, vowing to rid the Philippines of illegal drugs. Yet by the end of his term, the so-called drug war hardly made a dent on the country’s drug trade. In its wake however, were thousands of deaths with the PNP’s own estimates putting the death toll at 29,000 – many of these were later found innocent.

One of the most infamous killing during the drug war was the murder of 17-year old Kian delos Santos, who police accused of being a drug mule who allegedly fired shots at officers during an anti-drugs operation. This claim would later be refuted by CCTV cameras, which proved that the cops involved in the operation had subjected the teenager to a summary execution instead.

Despite the overwhelming evidence proving Kian’s innocence, then police chief Dela Rosa still insisted that the teenager was “not totally innocent”. Even with the facts showing blatant police brutality and corruption in the teenager’s slaying, Dela Rosa still ordered his police force to continue with the war on drugs.

What is even more grim about the drug war death toll is that it included children, who were caught in the crossfire of the brutal police operations. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that more than 100 children died in drug war operations from 2016.

The International Criminal Court building is seen in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo: Piroschka van de Wouw/REUTERS)
The International Criminal Court building in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo: Piroschka van de Wouw/REUTERS)

This included three-year old Myca Ulpina, who was shot dead during a police operation targeting her father in Rizal province; a year later, eight-year old Ronjhay Furio was killed by a stray bullet after an extrajudicial killing of a local councilor that has been attributed to the drug war as well.

Responding to the tragic loss of innocent lives, including children, the police chief Dela Rosa justified their deaths by referring to them as “collateral damage”. During a media briefing in 2019, he nonchalantly told reporters: “As I said, it’s an imperfect world. Sh*t happens”.

Dela Rosa’s comments were bereft of any empathy for the victims. Moreso, it showed that the former police chief was comfortable for innocent lives to be lost in police operations.

If that’s the case, how could anyone believe that Dela Rosa did everything in his power to prevent civilian casualties and rein in on erring or reckless members of the police force?

Rodrigo Duterte talking
Former President Rodrigo Duterte. [Photo: Bullit Marquez/Associated Press]
It should be noted that the reason the ICC is investigating Rodrigo Duterte and his cohorts for crimes against humanity is because of the systemic nature of the drug war killings. The former president has been unashamed about the number of people his state forces killed, notoriously comparing his drug war to the Holocaust and declaring that he would “be happy to slaughter [drug addicts]”.

Duterte publicly told his police to “kill” drug suspects, insisting that he will protect them from legal scrutiny should they be investigated. Senior cops who had participated in drug war operations have testified to the existence a “rewards” system for killing narcotics suspects, including the planting of evidence to implicate the slain victims in the drug trade.

Such remarks encourage a culture of impunity in the police force, a culture that was harnessed by Dela Rosa himself who was the president’s enforcer in the drug war.

With such glaring evidence of state-sanctioned impunity and disregard for human rights, it is beyond doubt that Duterte face trial at the ICC and for his central role in the bloody campaign, so too should Bato dela Rosa.

#InvestigateDuterte is TheDefiant.net’s campaign to bring former President Rodrigo Duterte and his cohorts to justice for the crimes against humanity they committed while in government. You can read more stories in this series by clicking here.