By Daniel Llanto

The International Criminal Court (ICC) may conduct its investigation on alleged human rights violations related to President Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs but is likely to hit a wall because the government would not cooperate. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said this lack of cooperation by the Philippines means that pursuing an investigation would be a waste of the Court’s resources and time.  “They can do whatever they want to do. We don’t recognize the jurisdiction of ICC,” Roque, noting that the Philippines has withdrawn its membership in ICC.

Ironically, Roque was one of the people who lobbied for the country’s membership in the ICC years ago. 

Roque was reacting to the remark of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a report that there is “reasonable basis to believe” that crimes against humanity of murder, torture and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm were committed in the killings linked to the government’s bloody “war on drugs.”

Bensouda said she is expecting to make a decision on whether she would seek authorization to open a formal investigation that would be out in the first half of 2021.

In March 2018, the Philippine government notified the United Nations secretary general of its decision to withdraw from the Hague-based body a month after Bensouda initiated a preliminary examination into the alleged extra-judicial killings in the context of the government’s anti-drug crackdown.

The country’s exit from the ICC formally took effect in March 2019. The Court, however, can continue assessing alleged crimes that happened prior to the withdrawal.

In withdrawing from the Court, the government said that local Philippine courts are functioning well.

To prove his point that any move would be futile without the cooperation of the Philippines, Roque cited the move of the ICC’s pre-trial chamber rejecting Bensouda’s request to open a formal investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, including possible crimes committed by American troops.  

“We are confident because we already said that we don’t recognize the jurisdiction of ICC. ICC will apply its ruling in a previous case. Why would you open a case if a member state will not cooperate?” he said.

Roque is correct that the Court’s pre-trial chamber junked the prosecutor’s request as the panel argued that a successful prosecution was unlikely because the governments of the United States and Afghanistan were unlikely to cooperate.

But Roque failed to mention that prosecutors appealed the decision and the ICC appeals judges eventually ruled that Bensouda could open an investigation into claims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

According to the earlier ICC report, it found “reasonable basis” that crimes against humanity were committed in President Duterte’s war on drugs, which has reportedly killed over 20,000 people since 2016.

“The Office is satisfied that information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder (Article 7(1)(a)), torture (Article 7(1)(f)) and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as other inhumane Acts (Article 7(1)(k)) were committed on the territory of the Philippines between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, in connection to the WoD (war on drugs) campaign launched throughout the country,” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in the report.

Bensouda’s office launched in February 2018 a preliminary examination of the alleged summary killings in the Philippines since July 1, 2016 in connection with Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

The preliminary probe focused on allegations that Duterte and senior members of law enforcement agencies including the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other government bodies “actively promoted” and “encouraged” the killing of suspected drug offenders and users.

The ICC aims to conclude its preliminary examination on Duterte’s controversial war on drugs this year.