The Philippine government today denied again that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte for human rights violations in connection with his bloody anti-drug campaign.
Malacañang’s insistence comes after the tribunal said yesterday that the decision of lawyer Jude Sabio to withdraw an ICC complaint against the president holds no bearing over the court’s initial investigation of Duterte. In an email sent to GMA News, the ICC said that a submitted complaint “cannot be withdrawn… The Office cannot effectively destroy or return information once it is [in] its possession or control.”
However, Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo reiterated in a statement the government’s long-held line that the Philippines is not covered by the ICC because the country’s ratification of the Rome Statute — which created the ICC — was not published in the government’s official newsletter.
“That it continues to accept communications from entities and persons relative to complaints on human rights against Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte only demonstrates its continuing ignorance of the very source of its being,” Panelo said.
Sabio abruptly announced yesterday that he was withdrawing his much-publicized ICC complaint accusing Duterte of “mass murder,” claiming it was being used as “political propaganda” by opposition personalities.
However, one of those personalities, former Sabio ally and ex-Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, alleged that Duterte was behind the lawyer’s withdrawal of the complaint, calling it proof that the president was becoming increasingly worried over the ICC’s investigation. (A video of Sabio signing paperwork related to the withdrawal showed a pro-Duterte lawyer standing over his shoulder.)
Today Panelo attacked the former senator, claiming it was Trillanes who “orchestrated” Sabio’s ICC complaint in the first place, characterizing it as “part of the vilification campaign relentlessly pursued” by the president’s detractors.
“Trillanes must be squirming in his disgraced retirement by Sabio’s turnabout. Lies can only be sustained for some time. When conscience haunts and torments the peddler, it melts by the heat of truth,” Panelo said.
“The ICC has to wake up from its stupor, if not ignorance. It should realize by now that it is being used by disgruntled and discredited persons to advance their goal of besmirching the reputation of PRRD and achieving their impossible dream of bringing down the Duterte presidency.”
The Philippines left the ICC on March 17, 2019, becoming only the second country to exit the organization. Duterte had unilaterally decided to withdraw from the court over what he said were the organization’s “baseless, unprecedented, and outrageous attacks” against him and his government in connection to his drug war, which has killed thousands since 2016.
Aside from the lack of jurisdiction, Manila has insisted that the ICC can only probe cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes if the local courts are unable or unwilling to do so. However, the ICC insists it still has the power to investigate Duterte for crimes committed before the Philippines left the tribunal.
Panelo said last year that ICC investigators will be blocked from entering the Philippines or will be deported if they conduct investigations in the country.
Despite Panelo’s impassioned defense of his boss today, the administration’s insistence that Duterte’s hands are clean has been undermined on multiple occasions by PRRD himself — including when the president joked that his “only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”