MANILA: The Philippines government is confident that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will reject a request by its outgoing chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to conduct a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial anti-drugs war.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that Duterte would “never cooperate” with any investigation launched by the court.
On Monday, Bensouda said that an initial probe had concluded, and that she had requested judicial authorization from the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to proceed with an investigation.
Responding to the announcement, Roque said in a press briefing on Tuesday that the ICC chief prosecutor’s move was “politically motivated.”
“It is legally erroneous, because the ICC has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of crimes against humanity as alleged in her information against Duterte,” he added.
Roque said that Duterte had already withdrawn Philippines membership from the ICC.
“Bensouda alleged that the Philippines war on drugs is an instance of a crime against humanity. What is a crime against humanity? A crime against humanity as defined under the statute of the ICC law is a widespread or systematic attack against civilians knowing that the subject of attack is civilians,” he added.
Roque further defended the Philippine National Police (PNP) and claimed that they “obviously did not target or willingly kill” those slain during anti-narcotic operations on the basis that they were civilians.
Rights groups allege that more than 20,000 people died from extrajudicial killings amid the country’s violent campaign against the illegal drug trade.
However, the PNP has claimed that the figure is less than 6,000, with police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar claiming that officials were willing to share records with the Department of Justice (DoJ).
“It was coincidental or collateral damage either because the policeman had the right to defend himself using reasonable force, or they were the subject of an attack, and therefore justified to act by the principle of necessity and proportionality,” Roque said.
The most important point of the government’s objection to the ICC investigation, he added, is the principle of complementarity, which states that “the ICC will not exercise jurisdiction unless the member state is unable or unwilling to prosecute.”
“When you say unable, it means there is no state, no courts, and there is no functioning police. It is a failed state. Unwilling is when you have legislation according impunity to an individual,” Roque said.
He added that “there is no such thing as impunity in the country,” citing the cases of two former presidents — Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Joseph Estrada — who were sentenced to jail after their terms had ended.
Roque also referred to the example of anti-narcotics policemen who courts sentenced for the killing of Kian Delos Santos, and said that the Philippines had an “impartial and independent judicial system” that decides on cases, including deaths in the war on drugs.
The PNP has also declared its willingness to cooperate with the DoJ in an investigation.
“We don’t need foreigners to investigate the killings in the drug war, because we have a functioning judicial system in the Philippines,” Roque said, adding: “I am confident that the pre-trial chamber will reject the request for an investigation.
“They will just waste the time and resources of the court because, without cooperation from the Philippine state, they won’t be able to build a case based on evidence that is hearsay and comes from the communists and the president’s political rivals,” Roque said.
He added that Bensouda’s sources were mostly “enemies” of the president, referring to members of the opposition, as well as self-exiled Communist Party of the Philippines chairman and founder Jose Maria Sison.
“This is now a political issue. The president will never cooperate until his term ends in June 2022,” Roque said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in a statement said that the Philippines government finds Bensouda’s announcement “deeply regrettable.”
It added: “The government wishes to underscore that the Inter-agency Review Panel headed by the secretary of justice was established to re-investigate cases involving fatalities in the campaign against illegal drugs, and is continuing its work and should be allowed to finish such work.”
Human rights groups and critics of the president, however, welcomed Bensouda’s decision, praising it as “another monumental step towards justice for all the families of victims of extrajudicial killings.”
Sen. Antonio Trillanes, a staunch critic of Dutertre who filed the ICC complaint, said: “The long arm of the law will soon catch up with Duterte and his accomplices.”
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said: “It was all worth the wait, notwithstanding the long nights of grief and grim days of fear. We will have to see this through. We will get there.”
Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director for Human Rights Watch, said: “Until now, Duterte has callously worn his support for the government’s deadly war on drugs like a badge of honor.”
Singh added that Duterte’s “presumption of impunity for these crimes was dealt a blow after the request by Bensouda to open an investigation into possible crimes against humanity.”
If an investigation takes place, “it could bring victims and survivors closer to seeing those responsible for their suffering finally brought to justice,” Singh said.