Top Malacañang officials blasted the International Criminal Court (ICC) for violating the country’s “sovereignty” after it greenlighted the launch of a full-blown investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial “war on drugs.”
In a Sept. 16 press briefing, Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque said that allowing the ICC prosecutor’s investigation is a “violation of our sovereignty and our jurisdiction.”
“[A]ng korte ng ICC ay walang hurisdiksyon. Pwede lang siyang mag-akto sa mga kaso kung ang hukuman natin ay hindi gumagana o di naman kaya ay iyong tinatawag natin na unwilling na magkaroon ng hurisdiksyon sa mga kaso na pinapatawan ng parusa hindi lang po ng Rome Statute kundi po nga ating batas sa Pilipinas na tinatawag na IHL law (sic),” Roque insisted.
The ICC announced on Wednesday, Sept. 15, that the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) I, a lower judicial body, had granted the request of former prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate killings and other related crimes against humanity under Duterte’s bloody war on drugs from July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2021. Crimes against humanity is one of the four offenses under the ICC jurisdiction that are considered “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”
The PTC expanded the scope of the probe to include crimes that occurred as early as Nov. 1, 2011 in Duterte’s hometown Davao, where he served both as mayor and vice-mayor. The new ICC prosecutor Karim Khan has yet to announce when he will start the investigation.
But Roque, who campaigned for the country’s ratification of the Rome Statute, ICC’s founding treaty, in 2011, maintained that the Philippines “did not waive” its sovereignty and jurisdiction to the court. The Philippines was a state party to the ICC from November 2011 to March 16, 2019, but Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the court in February 2018 as Bensouda launched the preliminary examination into the bloody drug war.
“Hindi po natin iyan binalewala noong tayo’y naging miyembro ng ICC. Dahil ang sabi lang natin papayag lang tayo sa hurisdiksyon ng hukuman, kung hindi gumagana ang lokal na hukuman,” Roque explained.
Roque claimed that the investigation will not prosper because the government and police will not cooperate. “Kaya kung titingnan ninyo po, napakadaming mga kaso, taon na po ang nakalipas, nakabinbin po ang preliminary investigation kasi wala nga po silang makalap na ebidensiya,” he said.
The Spokesperson said Duterte had “no reaction” when he was informed about the PTC decision. “Wala pong reaksyon ang presidente dahil sa simula’t simula sinasabi niya na siya’y mamamatay muna bago siya haharap sa mga dayuhang huwes,” he revealed.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said that the ICC is being politicized and used for “propaganda” by the critics of the president ahead of the 2022 election. He warned that the government will not allow ICC investigators to enter the country as they would be violating local laws and the Rome Statute.
“While we expect that more theatrics will be employed by the detractors of the President as election season draws near, this blatant and brazen interference and assault on our sovereignty as an independent country by the ICC is condemnable,” he said.
Panelo repeated a false claim that the ICC cannot authorize an investigation due to limitations under Article 127 of the Rome Statute. He said “there is no longer any matter for the ICC to pursue” as the investigation will be conducted two years after the Philippines left the Rome Statute.
“For this reason, there was nothing being criminally investigated by — or that was already under the consideration of — the ‘Court’ (which is not the same as an auxiliary office or chamber of the ICC) when said withdrawal took effect,” he added.
Contrary to Panelo’s claim, Section 2 Article 127 of the Rome Statute states that the withdrawal shall not affect “any matter” that was already under consideration by the court prior to its effectivity. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte, Panelo spew three false claims about ICC – Vera Files)
Rights groups warmly welcome ICC decision
But families of drug war victims and several human rights groups and advocates welcomed the PTC decision.
Normita Lopez, whose son, Djastin, “was killed while his hands were up in surrender to the police”, said that she is determined to “seek justice by holding Duterte accountable for his crimes against humanity.” Lopez is a client of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a group that provides legal assistance to families of drug war victims.
“Nothing is going to bring back our children and spouses who were killed by this bloodthirsty president, but accountability can help assure that others won’t be killed,” she said.
The Philippine Coalition on the International Criminal Court (PCICC) described the development in the ICC as “a big step towards justice” and “closer to tilting the scales of justice in favor of the victims.” It noted that the case “will still be a long battle, but the evidence has already been secured during the preliminary examination, and witnesses are waiting to testify.”
Karapatan, an alliance of human rights advocates, and former senator Former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV both claimed that Duterte and his “cohorts” should be held accountable for crimes under the drug war. Trillanes said, “[T]o Duterte and his cohorts, this is another step closer to prison.”
“[T]he Chamber sees as ‘apparent’ that the attacks against civilian population in the drug war took place pursuant to or in furtherance of a State policy, citing statements by President Rodrigo Duterte, former police chief and senator Ronald dela Rosa and government policies through circulars,” Karapatan said.
Neither Khan nor the ICC have announced any identified suspects for investigation or prosecution in relation to the drug war.
In the investigation stage, Khan has to gather evidence and identify suspects who can be brought to the ICC headquarters in the Netherlands through an arrest warrant or summons for confirmation of charges and possible prosecution based on the court’s legal procedures. ICC, however, has to depend on its member states and other countries willing to arrest a suspect.
“We expect Duterte and his cohorts to not cooperate and deny the smooth conduct of the investigation. This will gravely undermine the rule of law. It is a desperate and selfish act to protect themselves before the public’s interest. Kung sabagay matagal nang undermined ang rule of law at public interest sa administrasyong ito,” Magdalo Party-list Representative Manuel Cabochan said in a press statement.
But for Senator Risa Hontiveros, a Duterte critic, it’s now time for the president to face the impending investigation and not prevent ICC officials from coming to the country.
“Minsan dapat sundin ni Presidente ang sarili n[i]yang mga salita: Kung walang itinatago, bakit matatakot?,” Hontiveros said.