Malacañang takes swipe at critics as PH formally pulls out of ICC

Robie de Guzman   •   March 18, 2019   •   1925

Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Salvador Panelo | Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Monday (March 18) dismissed the statements from critics that the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) could lead to impunity and more human rights abuses as “misleading and baseless response”.

The Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC took effect on Sunday (March 17) following the failure of the Supreme Court to issue a ruling on consolidated petitions seeking to stop the pullout.

Gabriela Party-list has warned that the country’s withdrawal could lead to “nastier rights abuses” while the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) believes that impunity will win as a consequence of the withdrawal.

The Amnesty International also said the pullout is a futile attempt to evade international justice.

Malacañang has denounced the statements, accusing these groups of engaging in conspiracy theories.

“It is open for conspiracy theories by the political opposition, the left and the human rights,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo  said.

The Duterte government has repeatedly alleged that these groups are in conspiracy with each other.

“March 17 has passed, the sky has not fallen and the sun still rises in the east, our people desire policies with results rather than noise emanating from groups closely associated with the [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front] and defeated major political party which is presently fighting for political survival and relevance,” Panelo added.

The Philippines’ withdrawal took effect a year after it told the United Nations that it was leaving the permanent war crimes tribunal. The move was prompted by ICC’s move to launch a preliminary examination in 2018 on accusations that President Rodrigo Duterte committed crimes against humanity through his war on drugs.

Duterte cited “outrageous” attacks on his administration and the supposedly illegal attempt to place him under the ICC’s jurisdiction as reasons for the country’s pullout.

Panelo stressed that the government’s war on drugs is anchored on national survival as well as accountability of those who seek to destroy the nation.

He reiterated that extrajudicial killings are not state-sanctioned but rather consequences of turf wars among drug syndicates.

He added that deaths in police operations happen because suspects resist arrest with violence that endangers the lives of police officers.

“There is no culture of impunity under this administration. The country’s criminal justice system continues to be operational and strictly compliant with the constitutional requirement of due process,” Panelo said.

He also urged those who assert that drug-war deaths were state-sponsored to file complaints before appropriate administrative and judicial bodies.

“Failure to undertake this process can only mean that they are engaged in conjectures and politicizing the matter to the advantage of drug personalities and criminals,” he said.

Panelo has earlier reiterated that the Philippines has never been a state party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC.

“The Philippines cannot leave that which has never joined in the first place,” he added. “The Philippines never became a state party to the Rome Statute which created the ICC. As far as we are concerned, this tribunal is non-existent and its actions a futile exercise.”

Despite the withdrawal, the ICC said it will continue the preliminary examination it launched in February 2018.

But Panelo said that “should the ICC proceed with its undertakings relative to the Philippines and violate the provisions of the instrument which created it in the process, it can only mean that it is bent on interfering with the sovereignty of our republic.”

Meanwhile, former Presidential Spokesman, Harry Roque, an expert on international law, admitted to being “very sad” over the country’s decision to pull out from the international court.

He stressed, however, that the Administration made the right decision to withdraw, underscoring that “the ICC was never intended to be a court of first resort.”

Roque stated that at the time when the Philippines joined the Rome Statute of the ICC, it was “under the principle of complementarity,” which means, there is no overlapping in jurisdictions between the two parties.

Roque also reiterated that the Philippine local courts are still functioning and that, “it is only when local courts are unable and unwilling to invest the most horrendous crimes committed against international community that the ICC should take and exercise jurisdiction.”

The Philippines is the second country to quit the ICC next to Burundi in 2017. Gambia and South Africa also withdrew their membership from the Hague-based body but later reversed its decisions.

ICC’s 123rd member

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ neighboring country, Malaysia, took a different path by joining the ICC as its 123rd member.

Malaysia said its move to join the Hague-based body “reflects its commitment to combating international crimes for global peace and security.”

The ICC, for its part, said it was inspired to see Malaysia joining the ICC, adding that its accession to the Rome Statute was a veritable act of recognition of the continuing value of the Rome Statute and the ICC. – Robie de Guzman

Complainants ready to support ICC on probe vs. Duterte war on drugs

Marje Pelayo   •   June 16, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Complainants in the Philippines’ drug war issue said there won’t be any problem even if the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte won’t cooperate in the investigation that was sought by former International Criminal Court Prosecutor (ICC) Fatou Bensouda.

According to Atty. Kristina Conti of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) who stands as one of the legal counsels of the complainants, they are more than willing to support the investigation by providing witnesses and pieces of evidence.

“Kung usapin naman access doon sa witnesses doon sa mga dokumento na hindi makapasok sa PIlipinas, pwede naman kami gumawa ng paraan na kami yung mga witnesses yung lalabas ng bansa,” Conti said.

She said that although officials of the Duterte government have the right to remain silent about the issue, the complainants have the right to access evidence under the Freedom of Information Law, especially if the killings involved their loved ones.

They believe justice will be served as culprits in the crime will soon be put behind bars.

“Hindi kami sasalalay doon sa kung ano ang sasabihin nila. Hindi kami sasalalay kung ano ang aaminin nila. Sasalalay kami doon sa lakas namin. The strength of the prosecution will rely kung ano yung aming ebidensya,” the lawyer added.

Atty. Neri Colmenares who also stands as one of the legal counsels of the complainants expressed confidence that the case will yield positive results in their favor.

“We are very confident na magawa and of course hopefully ang bagong presidente sa 2022 will not protect President Duterte lalo na kung wala na siya sa pwesto,” he said.

The NUPL said they expected the administration’s refusal to cooperate in the probe which was obvious when the national government decided to withdraw from the ICC sometime in 2019 when attempts to investigate the so-called extrajudicial killings in the Philippines surfaced.

“Alam ito ni Secretary Roque bilang familiar siya sa ICC. States have the responsibility to fulfill their duties even after they have left the ICC kasi itong imbestigasyon na ito ay nasimulan noong miyembro pa tayo hindi pwedeng aalis na lang tayo tapos bahala na,” Conti argued.

The group is asking President Duterte that, for the sake of fairness, if the Chief Executive chooses to keep mum on the issue, he should at least allow the investigation and provide protection to the complainants and the witnesses.  MNP (with reports from Dante Amento)

Duterte gov’t finds ICC prosecutor’s call to probe Philippines’ war on drugs ‘regrettable’

Marje Pelayo   •   June 15, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The outgoing prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda has sought permission to open a full investigation into the Philippines’ drug war under President Rodrigo Duterte.

The official argued that there is a basis to believe the government’s war on drugs has committed ‘the crime against humanity of murder’ which she claimed had killed thousands of people, including innocent children.

Just in time for her last day in office as ICC prosecutor on Tuesday (June 15), Bensouda argued “that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the Crime Against Humanity of murder was committed” in the Philippines between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019, based on a that a preliminary probe that began in February 2018.

That same period was when Duterte ordered the withdrawal of the Philippines from the ICC.

In response, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday issued a statement saying that the Philippine government finds Bensouda’s announcement “regrettable”.

The statement underscored that the Inter-Agency Review Panel headed by the Secretary of Justice is still conducting reinvestigation on cases involving fatalities in the campaign against illegal drugs, and that the Panel should be allowed to finish such work.

“The International Criminal Court is a court of last resort. The States Parties to the Rome Statute envisioned a court with a complementary, not primary, jurisdiction for the prosecution of the persons most responsible for the most serious crimes of international concern,” the statement added.

“The Rome Statute requires the Court and the Office of the Prosecutor to respect and defer to the primary criminal jurisdiction of the concerned State Party, while proceedings are ongoing in the latter. The precipitate move of the Prosecutor is a blatant violation of the principle of complementarity, which is a bedrock principle of the Rome Statute,” it further said.

The department also said enumerated what it called concrete and progressive steps the Deterte administration has taken to address concerns in the conduct of the anti-illegal drugs campaign. It added that the government has recently finalized with the UN a Joint Program on Human Rights.

All these, the department said, “affirm the Philippines’ adherence to human rights norms and its long track record of constructive engagement with international and regional partners in human rights promotion and protection.”

“The midnight announcement by the current Prosecutor on the eve of her end of term also preempts the prerogative of her successor to make a full evaluation of the cases that he will prosecute. By her act, the outgoing Prosecutor likewise undercuts the attractiveness of the Rome Statute to States that may be considering accession,” the DFA said.

Duterte gov’t says ICC probe on PH drug war ‘legally erroneous, politically-motivated’

Robie de Guzman   •   June 15, 2021

 

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will never cooperate with any possible investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the alleged killings attributed to his administration’s war against drugs, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the ICC’s decision to move forward into a formal investigation is “legally erroneous” and “politically-motivated.”

“Hinding-hindi magko-cooperate ang Presidente hanggang matapos ng kanyang termino sa June 30, 2022,” he said in a press briefing.

“Hindi po natin alam kung ano ang magiging polisiya after 2022. ‘Yan po ay bibigyan ng kasagutan kung sino man ang susunod na president ng Pilipinas.

Roque issued the statement after outgoing ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Monday she has asked the court for authorization to formally conduct a full investigation into the Philippines’ drug war.

Bensouda said there is a reasonable basis to believe that murder has been committed in the Philippines between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019 in the context of the state policy.

But Roque, a lawyer and the only Filipino member of the ICC’s list of counsels, said the decision to conduct formal investigation is “legally erroneous because in the first place, the ICC has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of crimes against humanity as alleged in her information against President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.”

He also said that the police did not systematically attack civilians in the drug war as the killings during the campaign were “coincidental or collateral damage either because the policeman had the right to defend to himself using reasonable force or they were in fact the subject of an attack and therefore justified by the principle of necessity and proportionality.”

The presidential spokesman also said that the case, even for purposes of formal investigation, is “barred by the principle of complementarity” and the investigation is “not pursuant or in aid of substantial justice.”

“Ang sinasabi po ng prinsipyo ng complementarity, the ICC will not exercise jurisdiction unless the member-state is unable or unwilling to prosecute,” he explained.

“Kapag sinabi pong unable, ibig sabihin, walang estado, walang hukuman, walang pulis na gumagana, it is a failed state. Ang unwilling po is when you have legislation according impunity to an individual, wala po tayong ganyan sa Pilipinas,” he added.

He also underscored that cases in the course of a police operation are being investigated and that the country does not need foreigners to probe the incidents because the Philippines’ legal system still works.

“Hindi po natin kinakailangan ang mga dayuhang mag-iimbestiga ng mga patayan sa drug war dahil gumagana po ang sistemang ligal sa Pilipinas. Mayroong mga piskal at hukumang nagparusa na,” Roque said.

The Palace official also believes that the complaint was politically motivated as it was filed by someone who now wants to seek a higher position in the next elections. He did not mention any names but former Senator Antonio Trillanes was believed to be behind the move.

He also claimed that Bensouda made the decision as she supposedly wants to deflect criticism that only investigates cases involving Africa.

“Politika rin ang dahilan kung bakit si Prosecutor Bensouda ay nagsampa dahil ang puna sa kanya ang kinakasuhan lang ninya ay mga kapwa Aprikano niya. Kinakailangan niyang magkaso ng hindi Aprikano, para patunayan na kaya lang niyang magsampa sa mga kapwa Aprikano niya,” Roque said.

Under ICC statute, a prosecutor must seek authorization from the pre-trial chamber if there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.

In March 2019, the Philippines effectively withdrew from the Rome Statute after Duterte cancelled the country’s membership of the ICC’s founding treaty.

Under the ICC’s withdrawal mechanism, the court retains jurisdiction over crimes committed during the membership period of a state.

The ICC’s preliminary examination on the situation in the Philippines started in February 2018, covering the period of Duterte’s first day in office in July 2016 up to the time of the country’s withdrawal form the Rome Statute.

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