PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday announced the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute, preempting a United Nations human rights investigation into the government’s anti-drug war.
A prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s only permanent war crimes court created by the Rome Statute in 2002, announced a preliminary examination into alleged extrajudicial killings in February, acting upon complaints filed by a human rights lawyer and two opposition lawmakers.
Duterte’s decision also came after the Jordanian UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said Duterte needed to have his head examined for his moves against UN special rapporteurs, specifically after including UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz on the list of 600 individuals to be declared as terrorists.
Manila had expressed willingness to let UN investigators probe the drug war, except the French special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, for her alleged bias against the Duterte government.
On Wednesday, however, Duterte said he was pulling the Philippines out of the ICC, claiming the body was being used as a “political tool.”
He also pointed to “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks” against him and his administration.
“I therefore declare and forthwith give notice… that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of the Rome Statute effective immediately,” Duterte said in a statement.
Duterte said the attempt by the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to place him within the jurisdiction of the court, “in violation of due process and the presumption of innocence expressly guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and recognized no less by the Rome Statute,” led to the decision.
Prosecution in the ICC presumes national courts are unable or unwilling to hold rights violators to account.
“An international law cannot supplant, prevail or diminish domestic law. Even assuming that ICC can have jurisdiction over my person, still the acts complained of purportedly committed by me do not fall under the enumerated grounds by which the ICC can assume jurisdiction,” Duterte said.
Duterte lashed out at Callamard and Zeid, saying their statements showed “international bias” and the refusal of international community to support the country’s “legitimate efforts and self-determination, nation-building and independence from foreign influence and control.”
The outspoken leader, who is accused of stoking the killings with inflammatory statements, has taken issue over the Philippines becoming the first Southeast Asian nation put under a preliminary examination by the ICC prosecutor.
“Given that the ICC shows a propensity for failing to give due respect to the State Parties of the Rome Statute and that there is clear bias on the part of the UN against the Philippines, the Philippines may very well consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute,” Duterte said.
He said the treaty, which his predecessor Benigno Aquino 3rd signed on August 23, 2011, making the Philippines the 117th state to do so, was “neither effective nor enforceable.”
“Under our law, particularly the New Civil Code, a law shall become effective only upon its publication in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation. Devoid of the legal required publication, the Rome Statute is ineffective and unenforceable,” Duterte said.
He defended the drug-related killings anew, saying the acts being attributed to him were neither war crimes nor genocide. He reiterated that the drug-related killings “lacked the intent to kill” and were the results of legitimate police operations.
“The self-defense employed by the police officers when their lives became endangered by the violent resistance of the suspects is a justifying circumstance under our criminal law hence they do not incur criminal liability,” Duterte said.
Police say they have killed nearly 4,000 drug suspects as part of the campaign, while rights groups claim the toll is around three times the numbers given by authorities.
Some allies of the President in the Senate supported his decision.
The ICC probe stemmed from the complaints filed by Sen. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes 4th and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, as well as lawyer Jude Sabio.
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel acknowledged that the case against Duterte might continue despite the country’s withdrawal from the ICC.
But he belittled the case filed against the Chief Executive before the ICC. “We will not reach the stage that an arrest warrant will be served against the President. The case against him has no value,” Pimentel said in an interview.
“Imagine, who were the complainants? What is the allegation? Isn’t it a domestic policy? This is law enforcement,” he said.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan said it was the President’s “judgment call” to withdraw from the Rome treaty. “I think the President had enough of the unwarranted attacks against him.”
Trillanes said the President’s withdrawal from the ICC “has no legal effect on the cases already filed before it because according to the Rome Statute, the effectivity of the withdrawal is only a year after the notification.”
“Therefore, all his offenses committed as documented in our own communication, which I filed together with Congressman Gary Alejano, and offenses which he may yet commit up to a year from now are still covered by the ICC,” Trillanes said.
“Now, Duterte, by withdrawing from the ICC, has practically admitted that he is guilty of the allegations filed against him,” he added.
At the House, Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list agreed with Trillanes.
“It is clear that President Duterte can’t save himself from ICC investigation by withdrawing the Philippines as a state party to the Rome Statute. The ICC has already commenced with proceedings regarding President Duterte’s war on drugs, the ICC has the authority to proceed and the Philippine government has the obligation to cooperate with an investigation, regardless of the notice of withdrawal,” Tinio said in a statement.
“Whether he likes it or not, he will be held accountable,” Tinio said.
Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. of Ifugao called on Roque to provide better advice to the President, considering that Roque, a human rights lawyer, strongly pushed for the ratification of the Rome Statute during the Arroyo administration.
“Mr. Roque should remember that he represents the people and the country, which belongs to a community of nations…unless it’s our desire to be a pariah among nations,” Baguilat said in a statement.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna party-list agreed that the President would not be immune from liability.
“This withdrawal means that it is gravely petrified of the long arm of the law and accountability,” Zarate added.
with BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO AND LLANESCA T. PANTI