An unfazed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, February 9 welcomed an international court’s move to conduct a preliminary examination into crimes against humanity allegedly committed under his drug war.
Speaking at a conference in Davao City, Duterte said he is ready to face trial, further daring the International Criminal Court (ICC) to sentence him to death should he be found guilty of violating international laws.
“I welcome you and if you want to find me guilty, so be it. Find a country where they killed people with a firing squad. And I’m ready,” the president said.
He continued, “If you hail me into a rigmarole of trial and trial, no need. Go ahead and proceed in your investigation. Find me guilty, of course, you can do that. I do not want imprisonment.”
Duterte made the remarks following the ICC’s announcement that it will launch a “preliminary examination” into the Philippines’ situation to determine if there is a basis to conduct a formal investigation against him.
The ICC’s actions come after lawyer Jude Sabio filed a communication, accusing the chief executive of masterminding mass murder “repeatedly, unchangingly, and continuously” in the Philippines.
Sabio was backed up by Senator Antonio Trillanes and Representative Gary Alejano, who sent a supplementary communication against Duterte and asked the ICC to look into the current administration’s drug war.
“The preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines will analyze crimes allegedly committed in this State Party since at least 1 July 2016, in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ campaign launched by the Government of the Philippines,” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement on Thursday, February 8.
Bensouda said the ICC reached the decision following a “careful, independent, and impartial review of a number of communication and reports.”
She also noted that since Duterte assumed the presidency in July 2016, it has been alleged that “thousands of persons have been killed for reasons related to their alleged involvement in illegal drug use or dealing.”
“While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extrajudicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations,” she added.
‘Waste of time’
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, however, remarked that the ICC’s preliminary examination is going to be a “waste of the court’s time and resources.”
He claimed that drug war-related deaths do not constitute “crimes against humanity” because “the ongoing war on drugs is an exercise of the police power in dealing with the problem of drug trafficking.”
Pointing out that the ICC is “a court of last resort,” Roque further noted that it cannot launch an investigation as the Philippine government has not shown an unwillingness to prosecute officials at fault.
The Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) also expressed confidence that the allegations of crimes against humanity against Duterte “will not fly.”
“Of course, the accusations [of crimes against humanity] will not fly,” Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre told reporters.
He also added that the administration would soon designate a lawyer to represent the administration at the ICC, saying, “We will know who will represent after a few more meetings.”
‘Justice will be done’
In separate statements, Sabio, Trillanes, and Alejano welcomed the ICC’s decision to conduct a preliminary examination.
“[Duterte’s] system of death squad killings since the Davao Death Squad (DDS) that he continued in the war on drugs will now be investigated by the ICC and justice will be done,” Sabio said, adding that he felt “elated and vindicated” by the news.
Trillanes, meanwhile, remarked that the latest development should “jolt Duterte into realizing that he is not above the law.”
“More importantly, this is the first step for the victims’ families’ quest for justice,” the senator continued.
Alejano shared the same sentiments, saying that the preliminary examination will serve as the “first step towards bringing justice to the families and all the victims of the war on drugs.”
“I am confident on the communication we sent to the ICC and strongly believe that President Duterte and those who perpetuate and defend this policy of killing should be held accountable before the law,” Alejano said. “The ICC, stepping in, is a ray of hope amid the compromised rule of law under this administration.”
Established in 1998 under the Rome Statute, the ICC is a “court of last resort” that aims to hold those responsible accountable for crimes concerning the international community such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The Philippines has been among the state members of the ICC since November 2011.