MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's administration should cooperate with the International Criminal Court prosecutor's requested investigation into drug-war killings if it has nothing to hide, an advocacy group of lawyers said Wednesday.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has requested for authorization to look into the thousands of killings under Duterte's war on drugs, saying crimes against humanity could have been committed.
Centerlaw commended this development as a "step in the right direction to give justice to the thousands of lives lost under the Duterte administration."
The group, which petitioned against the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court, said government must follow the same philosophy it applies when saying people "should not be afraid of prosecution if we are not terrorists, criminals, or drug pushers."
"We challenge them to honor their own philosophy. Consistent with their credo: If the administration has nothing to hide, then they should cooperate," the group said in a statement.
Centerlaw said the move by the ICC prosecutor "reminds the powers that be that they are not beyond the law" and the Filipinos "that we do not face injustice in isolation."
"We must hold those responsible for grave violations of human rights to account. The proceedings before the ICC is not a political game. The opening of an investigation is not about gaining votes, but about giving justice. For everyone who believes in the principles of democracy and the rule of law. For every Filipino who seeks to stand for those who are no longer here to seek justice for themselves," the group said.
The lawyers called on the government to cooperate with the investigations in accordance with its continuing obligation under the Rome Statute even after Duterte unilaterally withdrew from the ICC's founding treaty.
"Though we contest the validity of the President Duterte’s unilateral withdrawal from the Rome Statute, we remind his administration that it is nonetheless bound to cooperate with the Court in connection with these criminal investigations and proceedings which were commenced prior to the efficacy of the Philippines’ alleged withdrawal pursuant to Article 127 of the Rome Statute," their statement read.
Duterte announced the Philippines was withdrawing from the court in March 2018, a month after Bensouda said the ICC was opening a preliminary examination on the drug war. He said the officials were biased against him and the court was being used as a political tool against him. Malacañang also maintained the treaty did not take effect in the country because it was not published in a newspaper of general circulation.
The withdrawal took effect on March 17, 2019, a year after the United Nations Secretary General received notification.
However, 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.