Palace: Probe into 'drug war' useless since Philippines rejects ICC jurisdiction

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Palace: Probe into 'drug war' useless since Philippines rejects ICC jurisdiction
President Rodrigo Duterte presides over the 49th Cabinet Meeting at Malacañan Palace on December 14, 2020.
Presidential Photo / Toto Lozano

MANILA, Philippines — The International Criminal Court can do whatever it wants but the Philippine government does not recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction and would not cooperate with its actions, Malacañang said Tuesday.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, a human rights lawyer years ago, said the lack of cooperation by the Philippines means that pursuing an investigation would be a waste of the court’s resources and time.

Roque was reacting to the remark of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a report that there is “reasonable basis to believe” that crimes against humanity of murder, torture and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm were committed in the killings linked to the government’s bloody “war on drugs.”

Bensouda said she is expecting to make a decision on whether she would seek authorization to open a formal investigation would be out in the first half of 2021.

“They can do whatever they want to do. We don’t recognize the jurisdiction of ICC,” Roque, one of the people who lobbied for the country’s membership in the ICC, said in a briefing.

In March 2018, the Philippine government notified the United Nations secretary general of its decision to withdraw from the Hague-based body a month after Bensouda initiated a preliminary examination into the alleged extrajudicial killings in the context of the government’s anti-drug crackdown.

In withdrawing from the court, the government said that local Philippine courts are functioning well.

The country’s exit from the ICC formally took effect in March 2019. The court, however, can continue assessing alleged crimes that happened prior to the withdrawal.

Reversed ruling

To prove his point that any move would be futile without the cooperation of the Philippines, Roque cited the move of the ICC’s pre-trial chamber rejecting Bensouda’s request to open a formal investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, including possible crimes committed by American troops.  

“We are confident because already said that we don’t recognize the jurisdiction of ICC. ICC will apply its ruling in a previous case in which why would you open a case if a member state will not cooperate?” he said.

Roque is correct that the court’s pre-trial chamber junked the prosecutor’s request as the panel argued that a successful prosecution was unlikely because the governments of the United States and Afghanistan were unlikely to cooperate.

But the presidential spokesperson did not mention that prosecutors appealed the decision, and the ICC appeals judges eventually ruled that Bensouda could open an investigation into claims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

‘Duterte can’t evade justice’

Although there is no investigation yet, Etta Rosales, Akbayan chair emeritus, said the latest development is an “example of how no one is above the law.”

“Mr. Duterte thought he could evade justice by doing everything to stop the ICC, withdrawing our nation from its jurisdiction and harassing the delegations sent here. But all Mr. Duterte has done is prove his fear of finally being brought under the law,” Rosales, former chair of the Commission on Human Rights, said.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia also described the announcement as “rays of hope [that] have peeked out of the pitch dark clouds of impunity.”

But Rosales warned against declaring an early victory, saying the “fight is still far from over.”

“Now that Mr. Duterte has his hands tied, we must be vigilant of his next actions. He may become a fake democrat, submitting himself to due process in a false show of goodwill; or he could become even more ruthless in his violations of human rights, now that he has nothing to lose,” she said.




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