MANILA – The Philippines, not the International Criminal Court (ICC), must have the first crack at investigating the alleged extrajudicial killings (EJK) in its territory.
The country cannot be deprived and preempted to conduct its probe, according to the Legal Cooperation Cluster (LCC) of the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as it denounced the recent decision of the ICC to seek a full investigation into the alleged human rights violations and crimes during illegal drug operations under the Duterte administration.
"If the ICC is to retain any vestige of legitimacy or semblance of authority, it must give way to a fundamental tenet of international law and which the Rome Statute itself embodies in its provisions: State Sovereignty," the NTF-ELCAC cluster said in a statement on Saturday.
"It would go against the very idea of justice to proceed with ICC charges without allowing the Philippine government first crack at these allegations," it added.
If so, the cluster said, the ICC investigation would taint the current probe being done by government authorities and “effectively brand the ongoing investigations by Philippine authorities useless and futile."
"This will only expose the ICC investigation as an attempt by State Parties to the Rome Statute to politically strong-arm the Philippine government," the LCC statement read further.
The planned probe, according to the cluster, "will only serve to diminish, if it already has not, the ICC’s perceived impartiality as an international tribunal."
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra previously assured the United Nations (UN) that the country's campaign on illegal drugs is waged under commitments to international human rights standards.
In his online message to the UN Joint Program on Human Rights on June 13, Guevarra said "the Philippine government reiterates its commitment to fulfilling its international obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights of our citizens without fear, favor or prejudice consistent with our Constitution and the interests and welfare of the Filipino people."
The ICC first opened a preliminary probe into the Philippines' campaign against illegal drugs in February 2018.
A month later, President Rodrigo Duterte notified the UN of the Philippines' decision to withdraw from the ICC but assured commitment to the rule of law.
In a statement on June 14 or a day before the end of her three-year term, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she has concluded her preliminary examination on the Philippines and requested authorization from the Court’s judges for a full investigation into crimes against humanity, torture, and other inhumane acts committed between Nov. 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019.
The LCC expressed support for Duterte's decision not to cooperate with any investigation to be initiated by the ICC.
"We support the President’s decision not to cooperate with the investigation, given that the Philippines is no longer a State Party to the Rome Statute, following its formal withdrawal from the treaty," it said.
It added that attributions against Duterte for purported EJK are “clearly unfounded and find no support in the facts and evidence." (PNA)