THE Philippines said on Friday it had given official notice to exit the treaty that created the International Criminal Court, which is examining President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drug war.
The move comes days after Duterte announced his nation would quit the court over its preliminary inquiry launched last month into allegations his crackdown on illegal drugs amounts to crimes against humanity.
Police say they have killed roughly 4,000 suspects who fought back during arrest, but rights groups say the actual number is three times higher and accuse the authorities of murder.
However, the president of the member states of the ICC said Friday he regretted Manila leaving the tribunal, warning it would have a “negative impact” on punishing crimes.
“I regret this development. A state party withdrawing from the Rome Statute would negatively impact our collective efforts towards fighting impunity,” said President O-Gon Kwon, speaking from The Hague, after the Philippines officially gave notice that it was leaving the court.
On Thursday the Philippines said in a letter to the United Nations, which oversaw negotiations to found the court, that it was pulling out of the Rome Statute.
“The decision to withdraw is the Philippines’ principled stand against those who would politicize and weaponize human rights,” the letter said.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, explaining the move from Manila, said the Philippines was quitting due to “the well-orchestrated campaign to mislead the international community, to crucify President Duterte... by distorting the human rights situation in the country.”
“This campaign against President Duterte and the Philippines is being effectively carried out by elements who seek to undermine our government and who have successfully infiltrated the human rights community and weaponized human rights protection mechanisms to advance their goal of overthrowing our democratically installed government,” Cayetano said.
“It is doubly lamentable that members of the international community, who include our own partners in the war against terror, have allowed themselves to be used as pawns by these individuals and organizations in undermining our own efforts to restore the rule of law,” he said.
“We are, however, confident that there is no crime or liability to speak of in the first place since our campaign against methamphetamines and other narcotics is a legitimate law enforcement operation designed to protect all Filipinos and uphold the rule of law,” Cayetano added.
Officially quitting the court requires a year’s notice and experts say pulling out does not preclude an investigation of the killings, which have drawn international concern.
The Philippines said in its letter that it “affirms its commitment to fight against impunity for atrocity crimes,” despite its withdrawal.
Duterte has frequently urged authorities to kill drug suspects while promising to protect police from legal sanction.
He has also previously declared that the ICC would never have jurisdiction over him.
Opened in 2002, the ICC is the world’s only permanent war crimes court and aims to prosecute the worst abuses when national courts are unable or unwilling.
The Philippines, under previous President Benigno Aquino, ratified in 2011 the Rome Statute which underpins the ICC, giving the tribunal authority to investigate crimes on its soil.
Duterte, who is buoyed by high popularity ratings at home, has fiercely defended the drug war as a battle to bring safety to the nation’s 100 million people.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque continued defending the President’s move Friday, saying the ICC had insulted the Philippine justice system by seeking to take jurisdiction over the case.
In a radio interview, Roque said ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda insulted the Philippine courts when she condemned them as ineffective.
“What the prosecutor did was an insult, declaring our courts as useless because the ICC can only move if the local courts are useless in the face of impunity,” Roque said in Filipino.
“That is not acceptable because the ICC violated the principle of complementarity when it initiated a preliminary examination on the alleged crimes against humanity linked to the drug war. The international court could only step in if the domestic courts are not willing and capable to hear a case,” Roque said.
He also disputed the ICC’s claim of jurisdiction, saying that the war on drugs was a sovereign issue.
Roque said it was too late for the ICC to ask the Philippines to remain in the tribunal.
A former human rights lawyer, Roque admitted he had advocated membership in the ICC, but said he changed his stance when the prosecutor went beyond the scope of her authority.
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, said Duterte was not afraid of the ICC.
Panelo said the ICC decision to conduct a preliminary examination of Duterte and his war on drugs was “already a violation of due process” because it should not have been publicized.
By announcing prematurely the preliminary examination being conducted by the special prosecutor, the ICC made it sound like the President was going to be charged with all the crimes alleged.
He said that there was an assumption that the ICC would observe the Philippine Constitution, the requirement of due process, and the presumption of innocence—but it did not.
“The President feels we were tricked. They do not respect our Constitution,” he said in Filipino.
The ICC reminded Duterte that withdrawing from the court would not change the Philippines’ obligation to cooperate in a proceeding that has already begun.
The tribunal also said the country’s withdrawal would not affect Filipino Judge Raul Pangalangan, who is assigned to the pre-trial division of the ICC. With PNA and AFP