Palace rejects ICC report on drug war

Malacanang

THE assessment of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor on the Philippines’ war against drugs is “legally erroneous,” Malacañang said on Tuesday, December 15.

“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 (because we have the minimum gravity required. Not all crimes are tried at the ICC),” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace briefing.

In her latest report, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said: “The office is satisfied that information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder, torture, and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as other inhumane acts were committed on the territory of the Philippines between at least July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019 in connection to the WoD (war on drugs) campaign launched throughout the country.”

She also noted how President Rodrigo Duterte and law enforcement officials “actively promoted and encouraged the killing of suspected or purported drug users or dealers.”

According to Bensouda, her office will decide on whether to seek authorization to open a probe into the country’s situation in the first half of 2021.

The Palace, in response, expressed confidence 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 due to the parties’ refusal to cooperate.

“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 (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),” said Roque.

“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 (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 added.

Roque stressed that the ICC will not waste its time and resources on an investigation that won’t move forward.

“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 (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.

The spokesman also maintained that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the country.

“The ICC does not have jurisdiction over the Philippines after the country withdrew from the treaty that established ICC,” Roque said.

He added, “The Philippines has quit the ICC and does not recognize its jurisdiction.”

The Philippines withdrew from the ICC in February 2018 after Bensouda started a preliminary examination of the communication filed by lawyer Jude Sabio regarding the country’s drug war.

Political agenda

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo accused Bensouda of politicking in her ICC report.

“With no authority to proceed, it becomes clearly evident that what Ms. Bensouda and her office are doing is playing politics in an attempt to besmirch the reputation and popularity of President Duterte – akin to the practices of other lowly vulnerable and biased international rights groups which accept unthinkingly and without basis the lies peddled by the dyed-in-the-wool opposition detractors,” he said on Wednesday, December 16.

He also dismissed the report as “irrelevant” to the Philippines.

“The report, or more appropriately, a political propaganda against (President Rodrigo Duterte), is not only irrelevant to the Philippines but immaterial as well to the affairs of the country’s government,” said Panelo.

“This is so, since the ICC, as we have repeatedly expounded, does not have jurisdiction over the Philippines, nor any of its state officials, given that the Rome Statute failed to comply with the publication requirement demanded by the fundamental principle of due process under our Constitution, more so because the Rome Statute is penal in nature,” he added.

Panelo maintained that the country’s judicial system is “robust enough” to conduct criminal proceedings brought before the courts of justice.

“The Republic of the Philippines shall continue to claim its independence and call out all persons or entities that seek to destroy its exclusive supremacy over its affairs to refrain from doing so for they shall be repelled at every stage pursuant to – and in accordance with – our Constitution,” he said.

Impunity is not forever

Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares, on the other hand, welcomed Bensouda’s findings.

“We are glad that the ICC Prosecutor found credence to these complaints and the pieces of evidence that we have presented,” he said.

“The Duterte administration may deny to high heavens that they are blatantly violating human rights but the international community is also closely watching and we hope that justice will be served soon,” he added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate likewise welcomed the report.

“With the recent intensified red tagging, arrests and extrajudicial killings of critics of the administration and the political opposition, we are relieved that the ICC has voiced its concern on the issue. To the violators of human rights, you have been forewarned. Nothing is forever; not even impunity,” he said.

“We hope that the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC will seek authorization to open an investigation in the Philippines in the first half of 2021 or earlier if they can, so as to focus the international limelight in the horrid human rights situation in the country and help to put a stop to it,” he added.

Meanwhile, Senator Francis Pangilinan said the ICC finding wasn’t surprising, but “troubling” that it took the international tribunal over four years to find “reasonable basis.”

“Perhaps if they acted sooner, thousands of lives could have been saved,” he noted.

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at ritchel.mendiola@asianjournalinc.com.

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