VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Roque claims without evidence that Joma Sison sued Duterte in ICC

Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque claimed without evidence that Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, founding chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was among those who submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding the killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

STATEMENT

During a June 15 press briefing with Police Director General Guillermo Eleazar in Camp Crame, Roque spoke emphatically against the move in the ICC to have the killings associated with Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs investigated.

He said the Philippines "will not cooperate" with the Court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, adding that:

Paano sila makakasampa ng kaso? Makakasampa ba sila ng kaso on the basis of what Joma Sison said alone? On the basis of what Sonny Trillanes said alone? Paano ngayon ‘yan?

(How can they file a case? Can they file a case based on what Joma Sison said alone? On the basis of what Sonny Trillanes said alone? What happens now?)

Source: PTV, WATCH: Press briefing with Spokesperson Harry Roque and Chief PNP PGen Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, June 15, 2021, watch from 37:14 to 37:28 (transcript)
FACT

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) does not disclose publicly the identity of persons, groups, or states that submitted a communication, citing their “safety, well being, and privacy,” according to its policy paper on preliminary examinations. The only time it may “publicly confirm receipt” of a communication is when “the sender has already made that fact public.”

A keyword search did not yield any official pronouncement or news report citing Sison, a political refugee in the Netherlands, as among those who submitted a communication to the ICC related to Duterte’s drug war.

Sison, in a statement to VERA Files Fact Check, refuted Roque’s accusation: “I did not file a communication against Duterte. Nobody with the collected evidence approached me to sign any communication to the ICC.” He called Roque a “morally unscrupulous shyster” and a “bloated liar.”

Former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who sought “judicial authorization” to investigate Duterte’s drug war one day before she retired on June 15, suggested to the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to also allow the investigation of “similar patterns” of killings in Duterte’s city and region of Davao from 2011 to 2016 and his nationwide drug campaign from July 2016 to March 17, 2019, the date when the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute took effect. (See Gov’t officials, police conspired to carry out Duterte’s war on drugs -- ICC prosecutor)

Should the chamber approve Bensouda’s request, her successor, Karim Khan, will conduct the investigation.

Communications sent to the ICC contain information about alleged crimes, such as genocide or crimes against humanity, happening in a state or country that may fall under the jurisdiction of the court. The OTP examines the communications to identify potential crimes and possibly use those as a basis to launch a preliminary examination or investigation.

In its 2018 annual report on preliminary examinations, the OTP revealed that it received 52 communications regarding its investigation of alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. Only a few individuals and groups have publicly disclosed their submission to the ICC. Among them were former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and the families of drug war victims supported by human rights groups Rise Up for Life and Rights and the National Union of People’s Lawyers. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Panelo makes wrong, misleading claims on ICC jurisdiction, basis of drug war probe)

Trillanes, along with former representative Gary Alejano of Magdalo party list, first lodged a communication to the ICC in June 2017 as a supplement to the earlier communication filed two months earlier by the late lawyer Jude Sabio.

Sabio, who served as lawyer for self-confessed Davao Death Squad (DDS) hitman Edgar Matobato, accused Duterte of crimes against humanity for widespread extrajudicial killings during his 22-year term as mayor of Davao City until his presidency. Sabio later on withdrew his communication, claiming that it was being used as a “political propaganda [by] the opposition.” (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: PNA background info on Sabio withdrawal of ICC communication misleading)


Sources

RTVMalacanang, WATCH: Press briefing with Spokesperson Harry Roque and Chief PNP PGen Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, June 15, 2021 (transcript)

International Criminal Court, Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations, Accessed June 18, 2021

International Criminal Court, Regulations of the Office of the Prosecutor, Accessed June 18, 2021

Personal communication with Joma Sison, June 15, 2021

Personal Facebook account of Joma Sison, Accessed June 18, 2021

International Criminal Court, Statement of the Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on her request to open an investigation of the Situation in the Philippines, June 14, 2021

International Criminal Court, Who's Who, Accessed June 18, 2021

United Nations, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Accessed June 18, 2021

International Criminal Court, Swearing-in ceremony: Speech of new ICC Prosecutor Karim Asad Ahmad Khan QC, 16 June 2021, June 16, 2021

International Criminal Court, Annex to the “Paper on some policy issues before the Office of the Prosecutor”: Referrals and Communications, Accessed June 18, 2021

International Criminal Court, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Accessed June 18 2021

International Criminal Court, Office of the Prosecutor, Accessed June 18, 2021

International Criminal Court, 2018 Preliminary Examination Activities report, Accessed June 18, 2021

Senate of the Philippines, Press Release - Trillanes, Magdalo charge Duterte at ICC, June 6, 2017


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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