MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte can indeed choose not to recognize the International Criminal Court prosecutor's request for a full investigation into drug-war killings, but this will not stop the proceedings from moving forward, Sen. Franklin Drilon said Wednesday.
On Monday, Fatou Bensouda, the top prosecutor of the international tribunal, said she has requested for authorization from the Pre-Trial Chamber to investigate the thousands of killings under Duterte's drug crackdown, saying crimes against humanity could have been committed.
However, Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said the President will not cooperate with it until his term ends next year. Branding this as a "political issue," Roque said any decision to move forward with the investigation is "legally erroneous."
Drilon, the minority leader at the chamber, said it is within Duterte's prerogative to avoid the ICC, but his legal advisers must be "at a crossroads."
He said although the President may state that he does not recognize the ICC because the Philippines has withdrawn from the Rome Statute, the court's prosecutor had ruled that they can proceed notwithstanding this withdrawal.
If Duterte does not cooperate or attend the proceedings, "that results in possibly the presentation of evidence without the presence of the President’s counsel, he cannot defend himself," said Drilon.
"It's easy to say, 'I will not recognize,' but when you start to talk about the path that is being undertaken, the non-recognition will not result in the ICC stopping its investigation," he told ANC's Headstart.
"If it proceeds with the investigation, what will President Duterte do? Will he appear and defend himself, which is the logical thing to do? Or, there is also a situation where he said, I will not recognize the ICC," he said.
Since Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016, more than 6,000 were killed in sting operations, according to government figures. But rights groups say actual number of deaths could be as high as 30,000.
In March 2018, Duterte canceled the Philippines’ membership of the ICC’s founding treaty just weeks after Bensouda announced the preliminary examination was under way. He cited alleged bias of the officials and claimed the court was being used as a political tool 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.