By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent

Notwithstanding the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the lawyer that filed the complaint against President Duterte for crimes against humanity, Jude Sabio, claimed that ICC would start an investigation this week before the actual pull-out of Philippine membership on March 17.

The International Center for Transitional Justice through lawyer Ruben Carranza also debunked the administration’s stand that the Philippines falls out of ICC jurisdiction after March 17, saying the withdrawal would not affect the ICC’s examination into the 52 communications over extra-judicial killings in the country filed before the tribunal.

“It doesn’t mean that with the withdrawal, officials of the Philippine government who have previously been warned by the prosecutor that they might be investigated or prosecuted can no longer face the possibility of prosecution,” Carranza said in a radio news interview.

Lawyer Sabio, counsel of self-confessed hitmen Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas, who claimed that they killed persons in Davao City upon the orders of then Mayor Duterte, said the ICC could exercise jurisdiction on the complaints just as it did in the case of Burundi where it decided to open an investigation two days before the country’s withdrawal took effect.

In April 2017, Sabio submitted to the ICC a formal communication on the drug war killings, followed by supplemental information from opposition lawmakers Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano. They alleged that over a thousand were killed by the so-called Davao death squad, while thousands more were killed in the war on drugs since Duterte became president.

Photo: ICC Lawyer Jude Sabio (Supporters of Atty. Jude Sabio Facebook Page)

The government withdrew its membership from the ICC in March 2018, a month after the ICC announced a preliminary examination on alleged extra-judicial killings in the country that would determine whether there is cause to go on to a full-blown investigation.

Reacting to reports that ICC will push through its investigation, Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra said the ICC cannot investigate and prosecute President Duterte over the killings and alleged human rights violations under his administration’s war on drugs.

Guevarra said the Chief Executive does not even need to formally respond to the charges in the complaints filed against him before the ICC following the country’s withdrawal from the international tribunal based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Guevarra believed that the President may ignore the charges before the ICC or any order from the tribunal to answer the complaints.

“Answering or participating in any way will be inconsistent with our previous act of withdrawal from the ICC,” he explained.

Guevarra said apart from the government’s withdrawal of its membership, the ICC cannot take jurisdiction over the cases because the justice system in the country is working.

“As far as our country is concerned, the ICC cannot exercise its jurisdiction to investigate, much less to prosecute, because our own investigative agencies and judicial bodies are functioning effectively, albeit slowly,” Guevarra added.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo echoed the same view, insisting that the ICC has never acquired jurisdiction of the Philippines since laws must be published in the Official Gazette or a newspaper of general circulation to be valid.

“They cannot be doing any investigation, because it never acquired jurisdiction over the Philippines,” Panelo also said.

This line of reasoning lawyer Carranza found flawed. He said the executive branch’s insistence that the Philippines’ membership is moot due to the alleged non-publication of the Rome Statute in the Official Gazette, is an “embarrassing” legal argument.

He argued: “Why is the Philippine government challenging the petition filed by the opposition senators in the Philippine Supreme Court questioning the withdrawal? They can just leave it alone. The Philippines contributed money to the ICC, The Philippines nominated a judge to the ICC.”

The withdrawal itself is set to be deliberated on by the Supreme Court after opposition senators and the Philippine Coalition for ICC challenged this action by the executive branch before the high court.