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Palace sees end of International Criminal Court

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Palace sees end of International Criminal Court

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque warned of an “avalanche of other states leaving” the ICC after Manila sent notice to withdraw from the Rome Statute, which created the international tribunal. Philstar.com/File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court could be “the beginning of the end” for the ICC, as more countries could follow suit and discourage non-members from joining, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque warned of an “avalanche of other states leaving” the ICC after Manila sent notice to withdraw from the Rome Statute, which created the international tribunal.

“This is the beginning of the end of the court,” Roque told ANC, adding that the ICC would have no jurisdiction over the Philippines, and it was unlikely President Duterte would ever be handed over to the court.

The announcement to withdraw comes five weeks after a court prosecutor said a preliminary examination had been opened into Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, to look into whether crimes against humanity had been committed.

But according to Roque, that examination “violates the very fundamental basis by which we gave our consent to be bound by the ICC.”

ICC prosecutors have yet to comment on the announcement.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Duterte said UN special rapporteurs were trying to “paint me as a ruthless and heartless violator of human right,” and the ICC had acted prematurely and created the impression he would be charged with serious crimes.

Roque said Duterte believes there is a “conspiracy” among lobby groups and the United Nations, to which he said the ICC is perceived to be allied, and wants to indict him “in the court of public opinion.”

“The ICC has lost a strong ally in Asia,” Roque told a media briefing.

“No new countries will join because we are recognized as probably the number one defender of human rights and democracy in the world,” added Roque, a lawyer and prominent advocate for the Philippines joining the ICC in 2011.

Since he is the only Filipino counsel recognized by the ICC, Roque said he could have recommended to the President to face the international tribunal even at the level of preliminary examination.

“Let’s face it but let’s avoid a future instance where the prosecutor will violate the very basis by which states became part of the ICC,” he said.

Duterte’s opponents wasted no time in accusing him of flip-flopping, pointing out that he had repeatedly dared the ICC to indict him and said he would “rot in jail” to defend a war on drugs during which police have killed thousands.

They said Duterte’s decision was an admission of guilt and a sign that he was panicking.

Human rights and jurist groups condemned him for what they saw as an attempt to evade justice and accountability, and said a withdrawal was pointless because jurisdiction applied retroactively for the period of membership.

Roque defended the President, saying the Chief Executive was questioning the lack of jurisdiction and this should not be seen as fear of participating in any investigation here or abroad.

He said Duterte was trying to protect the country’s sovereignty by not allowing any other international body like the ICC to meddle in domestic affairs and issues.

Roque maintained the ICC cannot go in and intrude since the judicial process is working in the country.

Roque added the recent statements of UN High Commissioner Zeid al Hussein over Duterte’s need to consult a psychiatrist was the last straw that prompted the decision to withdraw as state party to the treaty.

“The statement of the UN high commissioner of human rights… asking him to see a psychiatrist. With that statement, the President is convinced that there must be some kind of a conspiracy on the part of pressure groups and UN officials to shame him,” he said.

Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Duterte felt the ICC had become “a tool of oppression, a tool of harassment.”

He said Duterte’s decision to withdraw as a signatory to the Rome Statute was not a cowardly act.

“Definitely not. We know the character of the President, he’s tough and he faces challenges, all kinds, against all odds,” Panelo said.

Malacañang maintains that there “is no Rome Statute to speak of” because the Philippines has withdrawn as state party to the agreement.

“And if you look at the scenario, it seems that they are hell bent on making a sample of this President. You must remember that African member states are complaining about the ICC using itself as a tool,” Panelo said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the ICC is being used as a political tool of critics and politicians riding on human rights issues against Duterte.

He said that withdrawing from the ICC does not mean “evading or getting away from the consequences or jurisdiction” of the international court.

He emphasized that “withdrawal does not take you out of jurisdiction of Rome Statute.“

Cayetano said there were informal discussions when he was still senator to withdraw from the ICC.

Cayetano recalled the military and the police did not want the government to ratify the Rome Statute during the administration of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They said the presence of internal conflict in the country might compromise the security forces.

“The President sees that there’s conflict like what happened in Marawi City, etc. and that’s the same reason the US, China, Russia did sign or ratify. The US signed but did not ratify,” Cayetano said. – Pia Lee-Brago

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

RODRIGO DUTERTE

ROME STATUTE

ZEID AL HUSSEIN

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