Crystallising the official narrative: New discourses about the killings from the Philippine government’s campaign against illegal drugs

Cheryll Ruth R. Soriano, Clarissa C. David, Jenna Mae Atun

“News media’s construction of crime and drugs can shape and change public perceptions and influence popular acceptance of policy and state responses. In this way, media, through selection of sources and framing of narratives, act as important agents of social control, either independently or indirectly by state actors. This article examines how the Philippine government’s anti-drug campaign, and the thousands of deaths resulting from them, has been depicted by the media to the public.”

MARCH 14, 2018

Duterte announces that the Philippines will withdraw as a member-state of the ICC. In a written statement, the President says he is “withdrawing [the country’s] ratification of the Rome Statute effective immediately.”


But the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding document, explicitly states that withdrawal shall only take effect “one year after the date of receipt of the notification.” Ceasing to be a member-state will also not affect criminal investigations and proceedings that have been started before the withdrawal came into effect.

FEBRUARY 8, 2018

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor announces that it has initiated a preliminary examination to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish that the case falls under the court’s jurisdiction. 


In a statement, Bensouda says her office has decided to pursue this move “following a careful, independent, and impartial review of communications and reports documenting alleged crimes.”


Then-presidential spokesperson Harry Roque says Duterte welcomes this move “because he is sick and tired of being accused of the commission of crimes against humanity.”

JUNE 6, 2017

Then-senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo representative Gary Alejano file supplemental communication before the ICC urging Bensouda to initiate a preliminary examination “to provide a glimmer of hope for the thousands of victims that Duterte’s impunity would soon end.”


The 45-page document the two submitted highlight Duterte’s violent rhetoric, including various pronouncements in which he ordered the killings of suspected drug personalities.

APRIL 24, 2017

Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio files a communication before the ICC over the “repeatedly, unchangingly, and continuously” mass murder in the Philippines. 


He requests the court to “commit [Duterte] and his senior government officials to the Trial Chamber for trial and that the Trial Chamber in turn, after trial, convict them and sentence them to corresponding prison sentence or life imprisonment.”


Sabio was the lawyer of self-confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) member Edgar Matobato, who was the first to publicly come out to accuse Duterte of being behind the killings in Davao City as mayor. 


In the documents filed, Sabio says he has “direct proof beyond reasonable doubt” that Duterte continued these killings at the national level. 

Sabio would later withdraw his communication in January 2020, but experts point out this will not affect the ongoing proceedings. He died on April 12, 2021due to cardiac arrest.

NOVEMBER 17, 2016

Duterte threatens to withdraw the Philippines from being a member-state of the ICC. 


He calls the international court useless, saying it really is unable to help small countries. This would be the first of many instances when the President would publicly threaten and insult the ICC, including its officials.

OCTOBER 13, 2016

Then-ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says her office is keeping an eye on the incidents in the Philippines as the number of deaths in drug war operations continues to rise almost four months into the Duterte administration. 


In a statement, she says her office “will be closely following the developments… and record any instance of incitement or resort to violence with a view to assessing whether a preliminary examination into the situation of the Philippines needs to be opened.” 


Without naming any official, Bensouda also warns that “any person in the Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable to prosecution before the Court.”