Palace confident ICC will reject probe into drug war

By Azer Parrocha

December 15, 2020, 6:28 pm

<p>Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque <em>(File photo)</em></p>

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (File photo)

MANILA – Malacañang is confident that International Criminal Court (ICC) judges will eventually decide against opening a preliminary investigation into the Duterte administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

In a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office allegedly found "reasonable basis” to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in the crackdown on illegal drugs.

Roque said he was confident that the ICC will apply the April 2019 decision of its pre-trial chamber that prevented the prosecutor from investigating allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan, which cited, among others, the lack of cooperation from parties and the need for the Court to use its resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed.

“Kampante po kami na dahil sinabi na natin iyan ay ia-apply ng ICC iyong naging ruling na nila sa isang kaso. Na bakit ka pa magsisimula ng kaso, kung hindi ka naman makipagtulungan, iyong bansa na naging miyembro ng ICC. Desisyon po iyan ng ICC mismo, pre-trial chamber doon po sa kaso na nais nilang mag-imbestiga laban sa mga Amerikano. I am confident po na ia-apply din iyong prinsipyo pagdating kay Presidente (So, we are confident that because we said that, the ICC will apply their ruling in a case. That is why you will start a case, if you do not cooperate, your country that has become a member of the ICC. That is the decision of the ICC itself, the pre-trial chamber in the case where they want to investigate against the Americans. I am confident that the same principle will also apply when it comes to the President),” he said.

In her report, Bensouda said her office will decide on whether to seek authorization to open an investigation into the situation in the country in the first half of 2021.

Roque also described as “legally erroneous” Bensouda’s report saying there is "reasonable basis” to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in the Duterte administration’s drug war.

“Obviously, we do not agree with her. It’s legally erroneous dahil mayroon po tayong minimum gravity na required. Hindi po lahat ng krimen ay nililitis sa ICC. Pero gaya ng aking sinabi, eh mayroon na pong desisyon ang ICC, na hindi sasayangin ng ICC ang panahon ng kanyang mga opisyales sa mga kaso na hindi naman po uusad dahil walang kooperasyon (because we have the minimum gravity required. Not all crimes are tried at the ICC. But as I said, the ICC has already made a decision, that the ICC will not waste the time of its officers in cases that will not progress because there is no cooperation),” he said.

Roque cited principle of complementarity in which the ICC can only investigate crimes against humanity if local courts are unable or unwilling to do so.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself has repeatedly said the ICC has no jurisdiction over him since the Rome Statute was never published in a newspaper of general circulation or on the Official Gazette. The Rome Statute is a treaty that created the international court on Nov. 1, 2011.

Roque said the ICC report was “grossly misleading” because the ICC judges will still have to decide by mid of next year whether or not they will proceed to preliminary investigation.

“The announcement is the decision whether or not they will proceed to ask the pre-trial chamber for authorization to proceed to a preliminary examination will be out next year. So there is no finding to speak of. Besides, as I’ve said, they can do what they want pero hindi kinikilala ng Presidente ang hurisdiksiyon at mayroon na pong desisyon ang ICC chamber (but the President insists they have no jurisdiction and the ICC chamber has already made a decision),” he said.

Bensouda's report said there is “reasonable basis” to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as other inhumane were committed on the territory of the Philippines between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, in connection to the [war on drugs] campaign launched throughout the country.”

The Duterte administration’s drug war has been under preliminary examination of the Office of the Prosecutor since February 2018.

Manila cut ties with the ICC after Bensouda in February 2018 pushed through with the preliminary examination of the communication filed by lawyer Jude Sabio before the international tribunal.

Sabio’s communication accused Duterte of perpetrating crimes against humanity for thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings of drug suspects since the anti-narcotics drive was launched on July 1, 2016 until March 31, 2017, but he eventually dropped the communication he filed before the international tribunal.

In June, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced the creation of an inter-agency panel that will reinvestigate the drug-related killings. (PNA)