Malacañang confident International Criminal Court will reject probe into Duterte drug war

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman expressed confidence that International Criminal Court (ICC) judges will end up deciding against opening a preliminary investigation into his controversial drug war.

"We are confident because we already said that we don't recognize ICC jurisdiction. ICC will apply its ruling in a previous case wherein they won't open a case if the country will not cooperate," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a press briefing on Tuesday, December 15.

Roque made the statement after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in a report released earlier on Tuesday, said her office had found "reasonable basis to believe" crimes against humanity were committed in killings related to Duterte's anti-drugs campaign.

She also said that her office may ask for authorization to conduct an investigation in the first half of 2021 on whether or not the Philippine justice system was unable or unwilling to prosecute these abuses by itself.

Roque cites a reversed decision

Roque, a human rights lawyer who had lobbied for the Philippines' membership into the ICC years ago, said he believes that the ICC panel of judges will junk Bensouda's bid to begin a probe because they had done the same when she had asked to investigate the United States for war crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan since 2003.

"That was the decision of the ICC pre-trial chamber when there was a proposal to investigate the United States for crimes in Afghanistan," Roque said in Filipino.

The ICC pre-trial panel of judges, in April 2019, blocked that probe, saying that though the alleged US crimes were grave, the chances were low that investigation and prosecution would be successful. Instead, the judges wanted the ICC to use its resources for cases "that would have better chances to succeed."

The judges had also noted that Bensouda failed to get involved parties to cooperate.

Roque was correct in saying a panel of ICC judges did make such a decision. However, he did not mention that the ICC eventually reversed that decision.

Last March, an ICC Appeals Chamber panel of judges unanimously decided to allow Bensouda to investigate US war crimes in Afghanistan after the prosecutor appealed the 2019 decision.

The judges agreed with Bensouda that the pre-trial panel overstepped its discretion.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr responded to the development by referencing the US’ supposed warning to the Philippines against joining the international court. 

“But in a moment of sentimentality and intellectual slackness, we joined. America was right. As always,” he tweeted

While Roque kept saying the ICC no longer has jurisdiction over the Philippines since the country's withdrawal from the court took effect last March 2019, the ICC can continue probing alleged crimes that took place prior to the withdrawal. – with a report from Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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