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INT’L CRIMINAL COURT: IT’S A GO FOR PHL DRUG WAR PROBE; Manila’s appeal to junk quiz rejected; Duterte, others react

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA – In what appears to be a rebuff of government efforts to quash a case against former President Rodrigo Duterte and his Philippine National Police chief now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC), in a close 3-2 vote on July 18 rejected the Philippine government’s appeal questioning the continuation of investigation into the previous administration’s war on illegal drugs in which hundreds were reportedly killed. .

In a statement, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) headed by Medardo Guevarra said it is “disappointed in today’s judgment issued by the Appeals Chamber of the ICC.”

 Former president Duterte himself also “shrugged off” the ICC decision, according to his counsel Harry Roque. Senator dela Rosa was also reported adopting the same attitude as that of his former boss even as Philippine senators vowed to protect him in case an arrest warrant would be served against him.

Sen. Francis Tolentino and a host of government officials, at the same time, described the ICC decision as an exercise in futility considering that the Philippines has withdrawn from the ICC and, therefore, has no more jurisdiction over the case.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, for his part, said the Philippine government will no longer engage with the ICC following the tribunal’s decision to reject the Philippines’ appeal on the continuation of the investigation into the alleged excesses of the last administration’s drug war.

Hindi na tayo makikipag-usap sa kanila (We will no longer talk to them). What they will be doing will be usurpation of public functions,” Remulla said referring to the ICC.

Remulla  said the government’s appeal with the ICC was merely part of the policy of comity between nations and does not mean the government is submitting to the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

Remulla added that while the tribunal has no power of compulsion if it decides to issue arrest warrants in the Philippines, it may be prudent for those named in the ICC case not to go to countries where the ICC may have power to enforce an arrest.

“My advise is [for those named in the ICC case] not to go to countries where the ICC will be able to influence the judicial system. ‘Wag kayo pupunta sa lugar na maaring makialam ang ICC. Dito, hindi sila pwedeng makialam talaga rito (Don’t go to a place where the ICC can interfere. Here, they can’t really interfere),” Remulla said adding that these may include European countries.

In a statement, Roque, who is an international lawyer, said Duterte “has always maintained that as an independent and sovereign state, only Philippines courts can try any crime committed in Philippine territory.”

“[Duterte] has time and again said that because of this, he will face all his accusers anytime but before Philippine courts and before Filipino judges only,” Roque said in a Facebook post.

Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2019, a year after the Hague-based tribunal began a preliminary probe into the crackdown which has killed thousands.

The ICC launched a formal inquiry in September 2021, only to suspend it two months later after Manila said it was re-examining several hundred cases of drug operations that led to deaths at the hands of police, hitmen and vigilantes.

At least 6,181 people have been killed in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations carried out, according to the latest official data released by the Philippines. ICC prosecutors estimate the death toll at between 12,000 and 30,000.

Sen. De la Rosa, the former police chief who spearheaded the previous administration’s bloody drug war, shrugged off Tuesday the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to proceed with its investigation into the program’s alleged human rights violations.

“Wala. Deadma lang. Hahaha. Wala lang. Hayaan mo lang sila anong gusto nilang gawin, hindi naman natin sila puwedeng diktahan, at the same time hindi nila tayo puwedeng diktahan… Wala akong pakialam sa kanila,” Dela Rosa said.

The senator admitted that he was already expecting the ICC’s decision.

“Hindi na ako na-surprise, at hindi ako concerned, hindi ako nababagabag. Alam ko naman na desidido sila na ituloy yan, eh di ituloy nila yung kanilang imbestigasyon,” the senator said.

He also dared ICC officials to hunt him down: “Hanapin niyo ko.” (Find me.)

“Hanapin nyo ako, nasa Pilipinas. I am within the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines,” he added.

Asked how confident is he that the Marcos administration can “protect” him, Dela Rosa said: “If they cannot protect me, I will protect myself.”

Dela Rosa also continues to defend the controversial anti-drug campaign, saying they did it for the Filipino people, especially the youth.

“Basta ginawa namin yung war on drugs hindi naman pang-sarili namin, hindi para yumaman kami, kundi para sa kapakanan ng mga sambayanang Pilipinas at kabataan,” he said.

Duterte’s daughter and incumbent vice president Sara, had no words for the ICC’s decision when asked for a comment.

“Long after the Philippines ceased to be a party to the Rome Statute, the Philippine Government chose to submit data to the (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor and later to the Pre-Trial Chamber, not out of any legal obligation but purely on the basis of comity, consonant with the assertion of sovereignty,” the OSG said.

Judges Solomy Balungi Bossa of Uganda, Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza of Peru, and Piotr Hofmański of Poland voted to reject the Philippines’ appeal, while presiding judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France and judge Gocha Lordkipanidze of Georgia dissented.

In countering the Philippine government, de Brichambaut said the “ICC pre-trial chamber did not err in law.”

“I would like to state that it is rejected by the appeals chamber by majority, and that the impugned decision is therefore confirmed,” de Brichambaut said, referring to ICC decision.