MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte will eventually find himself answering charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC), a human rights lawyer said Monday, citing the Philippine courts’ inability to prosecute him because of the legal immunity he enjoys while in office.
The complementarity principle under the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, should thus apply because “we are legally unable to pursue the case against him in the Philippines,” said Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).
The Hague-based ICC is considered as a court of last resort if state parties are “unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution” of cases such as genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity.
Complaints, technically referred to as a communications, have been filed before the ICC seeking to prosecute Duterte over the thousands of drug killings under his watch.
Duterte earlier insisted the ICC has no jurisdiction over him and later pulled the Philippines out of the Rome Statute.
“The president suffers from the delusion that he is invincible, but that is, in fact, the opposite. May araw din yan. Darating at darating ang araw na yan,” Diokno said during a Quezon City forum on the eve of Human Rights Day.
Malacañang on Saturday said there’s “no evidence” that the government “is unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes against humanity.”
“The government is pursuing vigorously its campaign against all kinds of crimes,” said Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo, who often cited the conviction of Caloocan policemen for the brutal murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in 2017.
The killing, which took place during an anti-drug operation, sparked public outrage, prompting the Duterte administration to step back on its anti-narcotics effort for a while.
But the campaign later resumed in its intensity, with official government figures placing the number of deaths during police operations at 5,000 at least.
Diokno said the total number of drug-related killings could even be around 40,000 now, citing regular reports, including those perpetrated by motorcycle-riding assailants.
The Supreme Court earlier cited 20,322 deaths during Duterte's drug war from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 27, 2017, Diokno recalled.
More than 16,000 of those were considered “homicide cases under investigation,” including "riding-in-tandem" murders.
“Hanggang ngayon, walang katapusan yang ginagawa nilang mga patayan,” Diokno said.
“We have a very strong argument that the ICC should take jurisdiction of the case. Even if we want to sue the president here today and file a case before the Ombudsman... the law will say you cannot sue him while he’s sitting in office.”
Last week , ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a report that preliminary examination into the complaints against Duterte would be completed next year “to reach a decision on whether to seek authorization to open an investigation into the situation in the Philippines.”
In a statement, Panelo said the “false allegations” of extrajudicial killings in the country could not be considered as crimes against humanity based on the ICC treaty.
The Philippine government, he said, “does not allow any widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”