President Rodrigo Duterte will not cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s probe into the Philippines’ drug war, his lawyer said Thursday, after its judges found the crackdown could be a crime against humanity.
ICC judges authorized Wednesday a full-blown investigation into Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign, which rights groups estimate has killed tens of thousands of people, saying it resembled an illegitimate and systematic attack on civilians.
Duterte “will not cooperate since first of all, the Philippines has left the Rome Statute, so the ICC no longer has jurisdiction over the country”, chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo told local radio dzBB.
“The government will not let in any ICC member to collect information and evidence here in the Philippines. They will be barred entry.”
Duterte pulled Manila out of the Hague-based court after it launched a preliminary probe, but the ICC said it had jurisdiction over crimes committed while the Philippines was still a member.
Rights groups, lawyers and relatives of people killed in the drug war welcomed the ICC decision.
“I’m glad because this might be a way for us to get justice for the deaths of our loved ones,” said Corazon Enriquez, who blames Duterte for the killing of her son during a police raid on their home in 2016.“That’s what we’re hoping for -- for that person responsible for the deaths of our children and family members to pay.”
Edre Olalia, the president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said the organization hoped this was “the beginning of the end to impunity” while rights group Karapatan said: “Duterte and his cohorts should be made accountable for these crimes.”
Duterte was elected in 2016 on a campaign promise to get rid of the Philippines’ drug problem, openly ordering police to kill drug suspects if officers’ lives were in danger.
At least 6,181 people have died in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to the latest official data released by the Philippines.
ICC prosecutors in court papers estimate the figure to be between 12,000 and 30,000 dead.
Duterte has repeatedly attacked the world’s only permanent war crimes court, calling it “bullshit” and vowing not to cooperate with its probe.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday Duterte had “no reaction” to the ICC announcement.
“From the start he has said he will die first before he will face foreign judges,” Roque told reporters.
“If there are complaints, they have to be adjudged in the Philippines because our courts are functioning, and the ICC court has no jurisdiction.”
But the country’s top judges disagreed, ruling earlier this year that the ICC can prosecute “government actors” for alleged crimes committed before the nation withdrew from the tribunal.
The ICC said there was a “reasonable basis” to believe that the crime against humanity of murder had been committed in the crackdown.
Its investigation will also cover alleged extra-judicial killings in the southern Davao region between 2011 and 2016, when Duterte was mayor.
“If he’s guilty, he should be held accountable,” said Santos Reario, a barber in Manila.
“Maybe that’s why he’s planning to run for vice president -- to escape accountability.”
Duterte, barred under the Constitution from seeking a second term, declared last month he will run for the country’s second-highest office next year.
Critics said the move was partly driven by fear of criminal charges, though there is debate over whether the vice president enjoys legal immunity.
Human rights lawyer Kristina Conti said the ICC investigation could take months or even years.
The government’s refusal to cooperate would make the probe difficult but she said ICC prosecutors could work with groups on the ground to get the evidence they needed.
Families said they were prepared to wait.
“Even if it will take a long time, at least we have something to look forward to instead of just waiting for nothing,” said one victim’s mother, who asked not to be identified. “At least we have hope.”
Panelo slammed the “blatant and brazen” attempt of the ICC to meddle in the Philippines’ domestic affairs, particularly its handling of the rampant illegal drug trade in the country.
In a press statement on Thursday, Panelo maintained that the ICC has no and never had jurisdiction over the Philippines and its citizens.
Panelo said it was apparent that the ICC was bent on proceeding with a case against Philippine government officials, a move that is “in violation of our Constitution and in contravention with the Rome Statute that created it.”
He also questioned the timing of the ICC’s decision against the Duterte government, saying the international tribunal is being used as a “political and propaganda apparatus” by Duterte’s detractors “who will do anything to dethrone the President from his seat.”
In contrast, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said as a responsible member of the international community, the country must respect the ICC.
“They will continue with their timetable no matter what we do,” Pimentel said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said it was time for the President to face the investigation.
“Why be afraid if you are not hiding something?” she asked.
Senator Leila de Lima also said she welcomed the decision of the ICC.
In the House, Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay welcomed the ICC probe, saying that the adage “crime does not pay” may finally catch up with President Duterte.
Lagman said Duterte’s centerpiece program of eliminating the drug menace has degenerated into a killing field of drug suspects who invariably come from the marginalized and disadvantaged sectors.
“No less than the government’s count admits that about 7,000 had been killed in the bloody campaign against narcotics, while local and international human rights organizations record close to 30,000
victims of related extra-judicial killings (EJKs),” Lagman said.
“The ICC’s go-signal for the comprehensive investigation comes on the heels of the Supreme Court unanimous decision that Duterte cannot escape the ICC’s jurisdiction by invoking the Philippines’ withdrawal before it became effective,” Lagman said.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said the ICC decision offers a much-needed check on the President’s bloody war.
“Victims’ families and survivors have reason to hope that those responsible for crimes against humanity could finally face justice,” said Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher at HRW.
Duterte has long opposed what he said was ICC meddling in domestic affairs.
“This ICC is bullshit,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “I will not, why would I defend or face an accusation before white people? You must be crazy. These colonizers, they have not atoned for the sins against the countries they have invaded, including the Philippines,” Duterte said in June.
Saying he is a former prosecutor, Duterte said he could defend himself from a possible investigation.
In a public address last year, Duterte expressed his readiness to go to jail if it was his “destiny.” But earlier this year, he said he would run for vice president in 2022 to escape prosecution.
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