President Rodrigo Duterte is more than willing to personally argue his case before the International Criminal Court (ICC), Malacanang said, as the tribunal opens an initial probe to determine if there’s a need to investigate mass murder allegations filed against him.
In a press briefing Feb. 8, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte welcomes the move of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor to conduct a preliminary examination on the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers, among others.
“The president himself is a lawyer. He looks forward in fact to engaging the prosecutor of the court as a former prosecutor himself,” Roque said.
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda announced at The Hague Thursday that, “Following a careful, independent and impartial review of a number of communications and reports documenting alleged crimes potentially falling within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, I have decided to open a preliminary examination into each situation.”
Buenasoda stressed, “A preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute.”
She explained “The preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines will analyse crimes allegedly committed in this State Party since at least 1 July 2016, in the context of the “war on drugs” campaign launched by the Government of the Philippines. Specifically, it has been alleged that since 1 July 2016, thousands of persons have been killed for reasons related to their alleged involvement in illegal drug use or dealing. While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”
On April 24 last year, lawyer Jude Josue Sabio, the legal counsel of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, accused Duterte and top public officials of crimes against humanity, colluding in the widespread extrajudicial killings during Duterte’s 22-year term as mayor up to his presidency, in the guise of the war on drugs filed a 77-page communication before the ICC (See ICC complaint cites story of Ernesto Avasola, ‘first Matobato’)
The communication cited, among others, the murders of nameless people in Davao City, whose bodies were buried at the Laud compound or thrown into Samal Island as constituting a widespread or systematic attack against civilians.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, both staunch critics of Duterte, filed a supplemental complaint before the ICC in June 2017.
In a statement, Trillanes welcomed the development in the case, saying it is the first step in the quest for justice of the families of those killed in the war on drugs.
“This development should jolt Duterte into realizing that he is not above the law,” the senator said.
Alejano said, “The ICC, stepping in, is a ray of hope amid the compromised rule of law under this administration.”
Sabio expressed confidence that, “based on my communication, as well as that of Sen. Trillanes’ and Rep. Alejano’s, we will hurdle this first big step, and hopefully a warrant of arrest will be issued soon by the ICC against Duterte and his cohorts. “
In welcoming the ICC’s opening preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines, Roque said it’s “an opportunity for Duterte to prove that the issue of drug-related killings is beyond the tribunal’s jurisdiction, and that it is a ‘lawful use of force.’”
The ongoing war on drugs is merely an exercise of police power in dealing with the pernicious problem of drug trafficking in the Philippines, Roque said.
The ICC considers crimes against humanity, which are serious violations committed as part of a large-scale attack against a civilian population, as among the “the gravest crimes of concern to the international community.”
These include murder, enforced disappearances, imprisonment and enslavement, among others, according to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC.
Asked if the president’s local critics had a hand in the ICC move, Roque agreed, saying it is part of a concerted public relations initiative.
“Obviously this is intended to embarrass the President but the President is a lawyer, he knows what the procedures are, they will fail,” Roque said.
Yet, at this point, Roque clarified that no formal investigation has yet to be conducted in the country nor one has to be sent to the ICC to represent the Philippines.
“The prosecutor will make an assessment on the basis of collection and verification of all information available from all sources,” Roque said, adding that the goal is to determine if there is basis to proceed with a formal investigation.
In an earlier interview, lawyer Romel Bagares said to carry out an indictment, an international warrant of arrest is issued and enforced by member-states. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Can the ICC strip off Duterte’s immunity?)
In its history, the ICC has indicted leaders, including Sudan president Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, who was indicted of five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war, and three counts of genocide.
Kenyan president Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, who was accused of five counts of crimes against humanity due to post-election violence, was also indicted.
Then Kabayan Party-list Rep. Roque, in an earlier interview with VERA Files, said the ICC does not need to wait for news of a massacre of an entire town before it investigates.
“Even without actual or direct participation, the President can be indicted for crimes under the principle of Command Responsibility so long as he knew that such crime was being committed, and he failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his power to stop such acts,” he said.
Roque also said state immunity granted to a sitting president is “not an effective shield against the ICC.”