LIMA, Peru: Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. has backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat of withdrawing the Philippines’ membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC), claiming the tribunal was trying to interfere with the country’s internal affairs.
Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ministerial meetings, Yasay said the President’s understanding was that the ICC’s role was only “supplementary” to a country’s criminal justice system.
“It cannot supervene or be higher than our national criminal justice system. It should simply be supportive and supplemental. But the way I, as a lawyer, see it, the way our President as a lawyer sees, it seems to indicate that the ICC would like to go beyond what is authorized under its charter,” Yasay said in a news conference on Friday.
“The ICC is trying to interfere in our internal affairs … [Withdrawing would make sense] if it continues to [interfere]despite our assurances we’ve given that we’re not violating human rights, or that we’re not involved as a country or as a state in extrajudicial killings,” he added.
Yasay cited a statement issued in October by ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who said her office was watching for signs of officials “ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing” to crimes against humanity in the Philippines.
He said Duterte had explained that extrajudicial killings “have not been done by the police agencies involved in this war against illegal drugs but more by the criminal elements themselves.”
Yasay, however, said Bensouda’s statement might not be representative of the ICC as a whole.
“I’ve spoken to the president of ICC myself during the [UN] General Assembly meetings and I was surprised that now there are certain elements there that would seem to run counter to what president has said. [I was told] it’s not something they are interested to pursue,” he said.
Amid the warning from Bensouda that the ICC “has jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory or by nationals of the Philippines,” Yasay maintained that cases could not be filed against Duterte before the ICC.
“You know for instance that under the Constitution you cannot prosecute the President when he is sitting in office. An agency outside our criminal justice system can do that? That will be not be treating the country as a sovereign people. That will be treating us with great disrespect,” he said.
“That to my mind is what the President understood and meant when he said that if the ICC continues to carry out what it thinks is its responsibility, then we’re better off breaking away,” Yasay added.
In a speech before his departure for Peru to attend the APEC summit, Duterte said he might follow the move of Russia to withdraw from the ICC.
Duterte described the ICC as “useless” and expressed frustration about the West’s allegations of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and its failure to understand his crackdown on illegal drugs.
“They are useless, those in the International Criminal [court]. They [Russia] withdrew. I might follow. Why? Only the small ones like us are battered,” Duterte said on Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order removing Russia as a founding member of the ICC on Wednesday.
Duterte is seeking a meeting with Putin in Lima this weekend, which comes as he pursues an independent foreign policy aimed at weaning the Philippines from its long-time ally the United States. He has frequently praised Russia and China.