MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte during his term of office will never cooperate with the International Criminal Court on any possible investigation into killings under his anti-narcotics drive, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Monday asked the court for authorization to open a full investigation into drug war killings in the Philippines, saying crimes against humanity could have been committed.
Any decision to move forward with the investigation "is legally erroneous, politically motivated," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
"This is now a political issue. Hinding-hindi magko-cooperate ang Presidente hanggang tapos ng kaniyang termino sa June 30, 2022," Roque said in a press briefing.
"Hindi po natin alam kung anong magiging polisiya after 2022. 'Yan po ay bibigyan ng kasagutan kung sino man ang susunod na Presidente ng Pilipinas."
(The President will not cooperate until the end of his term on June 30, 2022. We do not know what the policy will be after 2022. That will be answered by whoever is the next President of the Philippines.)
'I WILL KILL YOU'
According to government data, from the time President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016 until the end of April this year, security forces killed 6,117 drug dealers in sting operations.
Rights groups say authorities have summarily executed drug suspects, but police say drug dealers had fought back violently.
"I announce that the preliminary examination into the situation in the Republic of the Philippines has concluded and that I have requested judicial authorization to proceed with [a formal criminal] investigation," ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had said.
She previously said there were reasonable grounds to believe crimes against humanity had been committed during Duterte's bloody anti-narcotics crackdown, the death toll in which has stirred international outrage.
In an address recorded this week before news of Bensouda's request broke, Duterte called on human rights organizations to take a closer look into his war on drugs.
"You would notice that there are really persons who die almost daily because they fought back," he said, warning drug dealers: "Do not destroy the country. I will kill you."
Many people killed in Duterte's crackdown had been on a drug watch list compiled by authorities or had previously surrendered to police, while a significant number of minors were victims, Bensouda's office said in a report six months ago.
Human rights groups accuse Duterte of inciting deadly violence and say police have murdered unarmed suspects and staged crime scenes on a massive scale. Police deny this and Duterte insists he told police to kill only in self-defense.
PALACE, DFA FIRE BACK
The Philippines is no longer a member of the ICC and without the country's cooperation, the ICC would not be able to build a case, argued Roque, a lawyer.
ICC's Bensouda "has no jurisdiction" to investigate the alleged crime against humanity or widespread, systematic attack against civilians, he added.
The police did not systematically target civilians in the drug war, Roque said. Killings in the campaign were "coincidental or collateral damage either because the policeman had the right to defend himself using reasonable force or they were in fact the subject of an attack," said the Palace official.
The probe is also "barred by the principle of complementarity," which states the ICC can only mount an investigation if a state is willing or unable to do so, Roque said.
"Lahat po ng mga kaso kung saan may namatay in the course of a police operation ay iimbestigahan. Hindi po natin kinailangan ang mga dayuhan na mag-imbestiga... dahil gumagana po ang sistemang legal sa Pilipinas," he said.
(All cases of deaths in the course of a police operation will be investigated. Foreigners do not need to investigate because our legal system in the Philippines works.)
The Philippines recently finalized with the United Nations a joint program on human rights, noted the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Roque, without naming anyone, said the person who filed the ICC complaint now wants to run in the 2022 elections. Former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is alleged to be behind the move.
Trillanes, in a statement, said of the development on the ICC case:
"This is another monumental step towards justice for all the families of victims of EJKs."
"The long arm of the law will soon catch up with Duterte and his accomplices," he said.
Duterte's spokesman also alleged politics motivated Bensouda because she supposedly wanted to deflect criticism that she mostly investigated cases in Africa.
Bensouda's announcement, made on the eve of the end of her term, "preempts the prerogative of her successor to make a full evaluation of the cases that he will prosecute," the DFA said in a statement.
Under the ICC statute, the prosecutor must ask judges for permission to open an official investigation into alleged crimes. The tribunal's judges have up to four months to issue a decision on such a request.
In March 2018, Duterte cancelled the Philippines' membership of the ICC's founding treaty just weeks after Bensouda announced the preliminary examination was under way. He said the ICC was prejudiced against him.
Under the ICC's withdrawal mechanism, the court keeps jurisdiction over crimes committed during the membership period of a state, in this case between 2016 and 2019, when the Philippines' pullout became official.
— With a report from Reuters