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FACT CHECK | Filipino lawyer not yet engaged by ICC on probe on Duterte’s drug war

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MindaNews fact-checked the May 13, 2024 column of Rigoberto Tiglao in manilatimes.net titled “Highly paid lawyer gathering dirt vs Duterte.” He claimed that human rights lawyer Kristina Conti is making P8 million yearly for gathering evidence for the International Criminal Court (ICC) against former President Rodrigo Duterte and his two police chiefs, now Senator Ronald de la Rosa and Oscar Albayalde, for alleged murders committed in the former President’s war against drugs, from July 2016 to March 2019. His claim is false.

Tiglao said Conti is “just one of the ICC’s 500 researchers called ‘assistant to counsel.’ These assistants are researchers for the 1,000 ‘counsels before the ICC,’ the lawyers that the institution routinely recruits on a contractual basis to help its investigators gather evidence on the cases filed before it, the most famous being that of actor George Clooney’s wife Amal.”

Tiglao wrote that Conti, one of the Assistants to Counsel at the ICC, “gets a monthly remuneration of £6,500, or P6 million per year. According to ICC documents, she would also get ‘reimbursement for travel to and from The Hague and related subsistence daily allowance.’ A source estimated that Conti’s income from her job as assistant to counsel is at least P8 million yearly.”

Tiglao’s statement that Conti is receiving remuneration from the ICC as Assistant to Counsel is false.

The Counsel and the Assistant to Counsel can only participate during proceedings before the Court. Proceedings refer to the stages of pre-trial, trial and appeals. Since the Philippine situation has not yet reached the pre-trial stage, no Counsel much less an Assistant to Counsel has been named/identified.

Responding to Tiglao’s article, Conti, in a post on her Facebook page on May 13 said: “I was engaged pro bono by the victims of the vicious ‘war on drugs’ to uncover for them the truth. I cannot be formally engaged in trial until the ICC investigation is concluded.”

In addition to the List of Counsel, the ICC Registrar also created a List of Assistants to Counsel, also referred to as Legal Assistants, “from which counsel have the opportunity to select junior lawyers in building their teams in the representation of their clients before the Court.”

Conti, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers-NCR, is the only Filipino lawyer to have been included in the List of Assistants to Counsel, as of February 26, 2024, the most recent list accessed by MindaNews on May 13.

As of the same date (February 26, 2024), there were only four Filipino lawyers in the ICC List of Counsel– Heminio Harry Roque, Charles Janzen Chua, Joel Butuyan and Gilbert Andres. Roque served as Duterte’s spokesperson.

As of May 13, there had been no update on the ICC website regarding the investigation on the situation in the Philippines. The latest development that concerns the Philippines was the election on March 20 of Judge Iulia Motoc as the Presiding Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber I, the Chamber that granted the Prosecutor’s request to resume investigation into alleged crimes against humanity under Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs.”

“There are four other Filipinos in the ICC’s list of ‘counsels,’ which is a higher rank than ‘assistant to counsel.’ These are Duterte’s former spokesman Harry Roque, the executive director of the Center for International Law, Gilbert Andres, and Joel Butuyan, chairman of the NGO Center for International Law. I have no information on what case in the ICC they are helping investigate,” Tiglao, who omitted the name of Charles Janzen Chua, also said in his column. [emphasis supplied]

This is misleading because investigations of crimes covered by the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, are the functions of the Prosecutor. The role of counsel is to represent their clients in proceedings before the Court.

The ICC had started a probe into the drug war deaths in 2016. Then ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the ICC will conduct a preliminary examination of these deaths in February 2018. The pre-trial investigation began on Sept. 15, 2021—covering crimes allegedly committed in the country between Nov. 1, 2011, the date the Rome Statute became effective in the Philippines, and March 16, 2019. This expands the scope of the investigation beyond the Duterte presidency’s “war on drugs” to also include killings during Duterte’s time as Davao city mayor. 

On 17 March 2018, then President Duterte formally notified the UN secretary-general that the Philippines was withdrawing from the Rome Statute. The withdrawal  became effective on 16 March 2019, a year after its receipt by the UN Secretary General.

Government records say over 6,000 were killed in anti-drug operations from June 2016 until May 31, 2022, but human rights groups estimate that the death toll may be as high as 30,000.

As with all our other reports, MindaNews welcomes leads or suggestions from the public to potential fact-check stories. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)

MindaNews is the news service arm of the Mindanao Institute of Journalism. It is composed of independent, professional journalists who believe and practice people empowerment through media.

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About MindaNews Fact Check

MindaNews Fact Check seeks to fight misinformation and disinformation circulating on the internet, news platforms and communities that we serve.
What is MindaNews Fact Check?
MindaNews Fact Check tracks and debunks fake news, false claims and misleading statements of government officials, civil society leaders and netizens being spread on the internet, especially on social media sites. MindaNews values truth and accuracy in performing our journalistic work.
Why we fact-check?
Politicians, government officials and other public and private figures at times tend to bend facts to suit or advance their vested interests, or their principals, in effect misleading the public. The distorted facts spread easily with the popularity of the internet and the wide influence of social media.
As independent journalists, our primordial duty is to tell the truth and present facts to help the public discern issues and concerns impacting their lives.
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FAKE – if the claim is completely invented.

FALSE – if the claim contradicts, undermines or disputes truthful facts, actual events and official records (i.e. laws and scientific studies)

MISLEADING – if the claim is based on truth but maliciously twisted that gives a different impression to serve a group or individual’s vested interests.

ALTERED – pertains to images or videos that were manipulated to mislead the public.

– if the claim needs more clarification or contextualization to make it clearer.
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We post our fact-checked stories in mindanews.com, on Facebook and Twitter with links to the original piece. We have a dedicated fact check page, where all fact-checked stories can be found.
How did MindaNews Fact Check start?

Since its establishment in 2001, MindaNews has been living up to its vision of being the “leading provider of accurate, timely and comprehensive news and information on Mindanao and its peoples, serving economically, politically and culturally empowered communities” and its mission to “professionally and responsibly cover Mindanao events, peoples and issues to inform, educate, inspire and influence communities.”

MindaNews was founded by reporters precisely to ensure that reports about Mindanao, an island grouping that has suffered misinformation and disinformation long before these words became fashionable, are accurate.
Our policy has always been to ensure that reports are thoroughly vetted before they are dispatched and uploaded on our website.
Our fact-checking initiative with a uniform format started in October 2021 as part of Internews’ pioneering Philippine Fact-Checker Incubator (PFCI) project. Internews is an international non-profit that supports independent media from 100 countries.
Prior to the PFCI project, MindaNews co-founded Tsek.ph, a collaboration among Philippine media institutions to fight disinformation and misinformation during the 2019. Tsek.ph did the same thing for the 2022 elections.
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MindaNews has sustained its operation through proceeds from subscriptions of its news service (news, special reports, opinion pieces, photos) and sales of books. It also receives grants from non-state actors. Editorial prerogative, however, is left entirely to MindaNews.
MindaNews does not accept funds from politicians or domestic or foreign states for its fact-checking initiative. For the other operations of MindaNews as a media organization, we have received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The grants from NED and UNESCO have been used for coverage, staff compensation, administrative expenses, and to train fellow journalists.
For MindaNews’ fact-checking initiatives, it received support from Internews (September 2021 to October 2022) and the BUILD grant administered by the International Fact-Checking Network (August 1, 2023 to July 31, 2024).
As a matter of policy, MindaNews does not allow these funders to interfere in our editorial processes.
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MindaNews encourages the public to provide us with leads not only for potential fact-check pieces but other news stories as well of interest to the general public.
Our fact checks include this paragraph encouraging readers to be part of the process: “As with all our other reports, MindaNews welcomes leads or suggestions from the public to potential fact check pieces.”

MindaNews Fact Check - Methodology

What standards do you follow when fact-checking?

As a news organization, we strictly adhere to accuracy, fairness, balance, independence, accountability and transparency not just in our fact-checking initiative but in all other aspects of our work at MindaNews.

We abide by the Philippine Press Institute’s Journalist’s Code of Ethics. Since we became part of Internews’ Philippine Fact-Checker Incubator project, we have been striving to adhere with the IFCN Code of Principles, in step with our organization’s commitment to non-partisanship, transparency and fairness.

We fact-check a claim that is specifically claimed to be a fact and involved the public interest or the welfare of the people. We debunk false claims using official government records, journals or interviews with experts. 

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How do we fact-check?

Step 1: Team members monitor press conferences, speeches, statements, news, interviews, social media sites, etc. for statements worth fact-checking.

Step 2: When a claim is worth fact-checking, a team member looks for multiple sources to dispute the claim, including tracing the original source document.

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About MindaNews

MindaNews is the news service arm of the Mindanao Institute of Journalism (MinJourn). It is composed of independent, professional journalists who believe and practice people empowerment through media. MinJourn, which is duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission with registration number CN201700385, is managed by its Board of Directors.

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Fact-checking Unit: Romer (Bong) Sarmiento, Yas D. Ocampo


Mindanao Institute of Journalism


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Carolyn O. Arguillas, M.A.
Rhodora Gail T. Ilagan, Ph.D.
Amalia B. Cabusao (Doc Can.)
Robert D. Timonera
Ellen P. Alinea