MANILA (UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to withdraw the Philippines’ ratification of a United Nations treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), just as the international body started its preliminary examination of the charges against the Filipino leader in connection to his controversial war on drugs.
In a statement released by his chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo, Duterte said he is withdrawing the Philippines’ ratification of the Rome Statute “effective immediately.”
By withdrawing the country’s ratification of the statute, the Philippines expects that the ICC will no longer have jurisdiction over it.
In withdrawing the Philippines’ ratification of the statute, Duterte argued that it is “not effective nor enforceable” in the country because it is “devoid” of the requirement that it should be published in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation.
“The effectivity of the Rome Statute which is sixty days after the submission by a signatory state of its ratification to the [United Nations] Secretary General as provided thereto cannot prevail over our law,” Duterte said.
“An international law cannot supplant, prevail or diminish a domestic law.”
The ICC, which has jurisdiction over 124 of its members, including the Philippines, was created through the 1988 UN statute.
The Philippines signed the Rome Statute on December 28, 2000 and ratified and endorsed it in August 2011, during the time of Duterte’s predecessor, then President Benigno Aquino III.
DRUG WAR NOT ‘GENOCIDE’ OR CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
Duterte, known for his tough language, previously said he was ready to face the ICC and answer all the allegations against him. He even said, albeit in jest, that he was willing to be executed through a firing squad if proven guilty.
Later, Duterte said the ICC can never have jurisdiction over him.
He said the acts being attributed to him are neither genocide, war crime, a crime of aggression, or a crime against humanity and therefore do not fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC.
“The deaths occurring in the process of a legitimate police operation lacked the intent to kill. The self-defense employed by the police officers when their lives became endangered by the violent resistance of the suspects is a justifying circumstance under our criminal law, hence they do not incur criminal liability,” Duterte said.
Nearly 4,000 drug suspects have been killed in legitimate drug operations since Duterte assumed office over a year ago. Human rights groups, however, believe this number is understated as it does not include people who were killed by so-called vigilantes, some of whom were alleged to be state-sponsored.
In his statement, Duterte also slammed UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein for “readily” showing “international bias” with their remarks against the him.
“It is apparent that the ICC is being utilized as a political tool against the Philippines,” Duterte said.
“Given that the ICC shows a propensity for failing to give due respect to the State Parties of the Rome Statute and that there is clear bias on the part of the UN against the Philippines, the Philippines may very well consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute.”
Duterte added that the Philippines signed the statute “on the assumption that the internationally accepted principles of justice in relation to our Constitutional requirement on due process will be upheld.”
The President also said the one-year period before the withdrawal becomes effective, as stated in the statute, should not apply to the Philippines’ case since “there appears to be fraud in entering such an agreement.”
“The Philippines, in ratifying the Rome Statute, was made to believe that the principle of complementarity shall be observed; that the principle of due process and the presumption of innocence as mandated by our Constitution and the Rome Statute shall prevail; and that the legal requirement of publication to make the Rome Statute enforceable shall be maintained,” Duterte said.
The ICC's move to conduct a preliminary examination on the charges against Duterte and some senior government officials stems from the communication filed by Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio in April 2017, accusing them of committing crimes against humanity due to its war on drugs.
Sabio represents confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, who had testified in a Senate hearing that Duterte had a hand in extrajudicial killings in Davao City during his time as mayor.
Aside from Duterte, the other prominent administration personalities included in the ICC communication were Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II; Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa; police Superintendents Edilberto Leonardo and Royina Garma; House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez; former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno; SPO4 Sanson “Sonny” Buenaventura; National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gierran; Solicitor General Jose Calida, Sen. Richard Gordon, and former senator and now Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
Sabio, for his part, said Duterte's latest pronouncement is confusing.
"Mr. Duterte is withdrawing from the ICC; and yet he is not recognizing the Rome Statute! Why withdraw in the first place!," he said in a statement.
"He is acting like he really needs psychiatric evaluation; or he is piqued by UN human rights chief ( Zeid Ra'ad Al) Hussein; Duterte is just digging his own grave in the ICC," Sabio added.
ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio also said the President's decision to withdraw from the international court was made out of fear of facing trial at the ICC.
"Pres. Duterte's recent statement that the ICC will never acquire jurisdiction over him has been followed by the official announcement today that he is withdrawing the Philippines as a state party to the Rome Statute is therefore utterly self-serving and driven by sheer panic at the prospect of a trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity related to his murderous war on drugs. Saving his own skin has taken precedence over the long-term international commitment made by the Philippine State to human rights and against impunity when it became a party to the Rome Statute," he said in a statement.
"Whether he likes it or not, he will be held accountable," Tinio added.
The ICC is the first permanent institution having power to exercise jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concerns such as the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, and is seen to help end impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes.
The ICC has since received over 12,000 complaints or communications. Nine of these cases have gone to trial and six verdicts have been delivered.