MANILA – Can the Philippine government stop the International Criminal Court from investigating possible crimes against humanity allegedly committed under the leadership of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in the context of his "war on drugs?"
The ICC said in a statement that judges had approved a request by prosecutors to begin the investigation into potential murder as a crime against humanity.
Rights groups who have helped drug war victims have welcomed the ICC probe, calling it an "important step towards justice and accountability."
According to lawyer Ruben Carranza, International Center for Transitional Justice Senior Expert, the Philippine government can still appeal the decision of the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to authorize an investigation.
“There’s a chamber in the ICC that is meant for appeals, and the Philippines, as a state that has jurisdiction over the crimes, can appeal to that chamber, and that chamber will have to rule within a reasonable time on that appeal,” he said in an ANC interview.
Carranza added, however, that the ICC prosecutor can still conduct his investigation even while the appeal is pending.
"While that is going on, the prosecutor can already, is not stopped from actually conducting investigations. The prosecutor is also not stopped from seeking warrants of arrest or summons at this stage. She can already do that even if the Philippines were to appeal this authorization.”
“Those warrants can be issued by the pretrial chamber or the pretrial chamber can opt to issue summons. But that means the prosecutor would have had to identify persons and the circumstances why he is asking for a warrant or why he is opting to ask only for a summons,” he explained.
The Philippine government has repeatedly maintained that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the President and the war on drugs because the country is no longer part of the ICC.
The ICC, however, said that they still retain jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes that occurred on the territory of the Philippines while it was a state party.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Thursday said ICC investigators would not be permitted to enter the country to conduct the probe.
"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.
In the interview, Carranza said human rights groups should not give up on looking for “domestic accountability” for alleged drug war killings in the Philippines.
“I think it’s important for them to also look at domestic accountability processes, not to give up completely on the fact that there is, you know, impunity going on in the country, and to use whatever they can in the country to address accountability for the drug war killings,” he said.
He said human rights groups should also bear in mind that there is a political context in the case against Duterte.
"There is the geopolitics involved here. There’s some pressure that can be put, there are interests--for example the United States, even if it’s not a party has exerted disproportionate influence on where the court goes. We don’t know how, to what extent that might happen here,” he explained.
--ANC, 16 September 2021