MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — The Philippines will not cooperate with a formal investigation launched by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into possible crimes against humanity committed in President Rodrigo Duterte's "war on drugs," his aides said Thursday.Judges at the ICC on Wednesday approved a formal probe into Duterte's signature anti-narcotics campaign in which thousands have died, a move welcomed by rights groups.
Judges' assessment of material presented by prosecutors was that "the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation" but rather amounted to a systematic attack on civilians.
Duterte has previously sought to shrug off the investigation and on Thursday his chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the ICC had no jurisdiction.
"The president's position does not change. ICC is bent, at the inception, of proceeding with this case in violation of our constitution and defiance even of its own Rome statute," Panelo told a radio station.
He said ICC investigators would not be permitted to enter the country to conduct the probe.
"Wala pong reaksyon ang Presidente dahil sa mula’t mula sinasabi niya na siya’y mamamatay muna bago siya haharap sa mga dayuhang mga huwes... Sa kanya, bahala sila kung anong gusto nilang gawin," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
(The President had no reaction because from the start, he has said he would die first before he faces any foreign judge. For him, whatever they want to do is up to them.)
In March 2018, Duterte canceled the Philippines' membership in the ICC's founding treaty. But under the ICC's statute, it has jurisdiction for crimes committed between 2016 and 2019.
Panelo questioned why it took the ICC two years after this withdrawal to authorize a formal inquiry. He claimed the court "is being utilized as a political and propaganda apparatus by those usual suspects who will do anything to dethrone the President from his seat."
"While we expect that more theatrics will be employed by the detractors of the President as election season draws near, this blatant and brazen interference and assault on our sovereignty as an independent country by the ICC is condemnable," Panelo said in a statement.
"Ang aking prediction po, matutulog lang po ‘yang kasong ‘yan dahil in the absence of cooperation, lalong-lalo na sa kapulisan, wala po talagang ebidensya na makakalap," Roque, a former human rights lawyer, added in a press briefing.
(My prediction is that case will just sleep because in the of cooperation, especially from the police, no evidence will be collected.)
Duterte, 76, who won the presidency on an anti-drugs and corruption platform, ends his single 6-year term in June 2022, but is planning to run for vice president.
Duterte, in his last State of the Nation address, defended the campaign that has seen police kill more than 6,100 suspected drug dealers in sting operations, saying it had cut crime and improved peace and order.
The president, who remains popular at home, has previously dared the ICC to put him on trial, saying he has never denied that he will kill people out to destroy the country.
Human rights groups accuse Duterte of inciting deadly violence and say police have murdered unarmed drug suspects and staged crime scenes on a massive scale. Police deny this and Duterte insists police are under orders to kill only in self-defense.
Philippines rights group Karapatan said the ICC's comments "reaffirms the views of victims and their families."
"Duterte and his cohorts should be made accountable for these crimes," it said after the ICC decision.