By J.C. Gotinga
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the war on drugs, his lawyer said Thursday, less than a day after The Hague announced its decision to start the inquiry.
In a statement, chief presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo said the Philippines has not been a member of ICC since 2019.
“The foreign institution has no – as it never had – jurisdiction over the affairs of the Republic of the Philippines and its people,” Panelo said, adding the development “neither bothers nor troubles the president and his administration.”
A three-judge ICC chamber on Wednesday approved a request by its former chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to investigate thousands of drug war killings under Duterte’s administration.
The judges authorized Bensouda’s successor, Karim Khan, to begin the investigation after finding a reasonable basis for allegations of crimes against humanity during Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.
Although official numbers put the drug war’s death toll at around 8,000, the chamber noted information supplied by rights advocates and drug war victims themselves indicate that as many as 30,000 people may have been killed.
While the Duterte administration does not deny that there have been killings, claims that use of lethal force during official anti-drug operations was for self-defense were undermined by findings in Bensouda’s preliminary investigation, the judges said in their decision.
Prosecutor Khan could issue arrest warrants for the president and others responsible for the drug war, but the Duterte administration has always insisted it would not entertain any move by the ICC, raising questions about any effort to prosecute.
‘Political and propaganda’ tool
“The timing of this development reveals that the ICC is bent on proceeding with a case against our government officials in violation of our constitution and in contravention with the Rome Statute that created it,” Panelo said.
He alleged that the ICC was being used as a “political and propaganda” tool by the president’s detractors and echoed earlier Duterte camp claims that the probe infringes on Philippine sovereignty, calling it “condemnable.”
An investigation by a foreign body is unwarranted, Panelo said Thursday, because the Philippine government is “able and willing to prosecute those who abuse their power and commit crimes against the citizenry.”
On Wednesday, the judges said that “supporting material indicates that the Philippine authorities have failed to take meaningful steps to investigate or prosecute the killings,” noting that only one case has resulted in convictions.
They noted Duterte promised immunity and to pardon any police officer who would kill suspects in the drug war, adding his administration listed the killings among its accomplishments in 2017.
The judges ruled the ICC has jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed before the country’s withdrawal, adding the investigation will cover the period between Nov. 1, 2011, and March 16, 2019, when the Philippines was an ICC member nation.
The time frame includes part of Duterte’s tenure as mayor of the southern city of Davao, where he allegedly controlled an anti-drugs “death squad.”
Panelo challenged the judges’ decision, saying the ICC no longer has jurisdiction since Duterte unilaterally withdrew the Philippines from the Rome Statute two years ago.
His statement goes against the Philippine Supreme Court which ruled in July that the ICC maintains jurisdiction before the pullout and authorities are obliged to cooperate with an investigation.
Probe ‘will never reach trial’
On Thursday, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said he believes the ICC probe will not see Duterte or any other official charged because the government will not cooperate.
“My prediction is, that case will end up dormant because of the absence of cooperation, especially from the police – they won’t be able to gather any evidence,” said Roque, a former human rights lawyer, during a televised briefing.
Meanwhile, rights advocates and opposition figures have hailed the ICC’s decision.
“To the families of the extrajudicial killing victims, this is another step closer to attaining justice for your loved ones,” said Antonio Trillanes, a former senator who initiated filing of the complaint with the ICC.
“To Duterte and his cohorts, this is another step closer to prison,” he said in a statement.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros also challenged the president.
“It’s time for Duterte to face this investigation. He shouldn’t stand in the way of International Criminal Court officials fulfilling their duty,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“Sometimes, the president ought to heed his own words – if there’s nothing to hide, why be afraid,” she asked.
Duterte’s six-year term ends in 2022 and he has announced plans to run for vice president.
Presidents and vice presidents are elected separately to a single six-year term. Duterte, who cannot seek a second term under the constitution, announced his candidacy for the number two spot in July.
“The law says if you are vice president, you have immunity. Then I will just run for vice president,” he said at the time.
However, constitutional lawyers have noted that presidents, but not vice presidents, enjoy immunity from lawsuits.