MANILA -- The Philippine government on Friday urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) not to be used as a means to advance the political agenda of government critics following calls for the tribunal to investigate alleged extra-judicial killings in the course of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against illegal drugs.

In a statement delivered on behalf of the Philippine government at the 16th assembly of state parties to the Rome Statute at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Presidential Spokesperson

Harry Roque stressed that the ICC is a “court of last resort” with a complementary, not primary, jurisdiction for the prosecution of serious crimes of international concern.

"We urge the court to resist attempts by some sectors to treat the court as a venue to pursue political agenda to destabilize governments and undermine legitimate national authorities," Roque said.

Duterte’s critics have been calling on the ICC to prosecute the President over his war on drugs.

Earlier this year, Jude Sabio, lawyer of confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, sued the President for crimes against humanity at the ICC for the spate of deaths in the drug war.

“It is indeed actions like these that politicize and dilute the Court’s mandate which ultimately undermines national efforts to punish and prosecute crimes covered by the Statute and derail current efforts to achieve universality of the Rome Statute," Roque said.

The Palace official reminded that the Philippines agreed to be bound by the Rome Statute on the principle of complementarity, that the ICC will only exercise jurisdiction if local courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute such crimes cognizable by the international tribunal.

“The Philippines has long since had laws and a functioning justice system able to investigate and prosecute such crimes in its territory even before the country ratified the Rome Statute,” he pointed out.

As such, he said that consistent with Philippine sovereignty and the principle of complementarity, the ICC’s “deference to genuine efforts at the national level to go after crimes must be upheld.”

The Palace spokesperson warned that the Philippines may withdraw from the ICC if the principle of complementarity is violated by the tribunal.

Last year, President Duterte himself threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the ICC.

In November 2016, Duterte said he would follow the steps Russia, which withdrew from the ICC after accusing the tribunal of not being “truly independent.”

“We trust that the Court’s exercise of its mandate will respect national processes…. A violation of the very basis for our consent -- which is complementary -- will constrain us to reassess our continuing commitment to the Court and the Rome Statute,” Roque said. (PNA)