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Philippines asks ICC to defer to its probe of war on drugs

The Philippines has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to defer to its government's investigation of alleged rights violations in connection with its war on drugs.

In a letter to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan dated November 10, Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Eduardo Malaya said the Philippine government had been looking into the alleged abuses in the course of the campaign. 

"[T]he Philippine government hereby requests that the Prosecutor defer to Philippine government's investigations and proceedings," Malaya said. 

The ambassador cited the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) referral to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of 52 cases where the Philippine National Police-Internal Affairs Service found administrative liability on the part of the concerned personnel.

The DOJ is also looking into more than 300 cases that involve "concluded and ongoing preliminary investigations into deaths of a similar nature," he said. 

“The Philippine government is likewise keen on ensuring the successful prosecution of cases that have been filed or may be filed in court against erring PNP members and others within its jurisdiction,” Malaya said in his letter, a copy of which was posted on the ICC website.

“If the prosecution fails to discharge its burden of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Philippine courts, pursuant to their constitutional mandate, will not hesitate to acquit the accused,” he added.

Reacting to the government's claims, human rights advocacy group Centerlaw said, “This could not be further from the truth.”

“On the contrary, the fact that only 52 cases of the estimated 30,000 killed have been reviewed reveals that the government’s feigned compliance with international justice is paper-thin,” Centerlaw said in a statement.

“Justice must be done not only in word but in deed. Centerlaw thus calls on the ICC, in the interests of international justice, to authorize the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) to continue with their investigations of the Situation in the Philippines, as empowered under Article 18(2) of the Rome Statute.”

Malaya argued that the Philippine government had "the first responsibility and right to prosecute the international crimes” based on the principle of complementarity under which the ICC operates.

“The Court may only exercise jurisdiction where national legal systems fail to do so, which is certainly not the case in the Philippines...the domestic institutions in the Philippines are fully functional and more than adequate to address the issues and concerns raised,” he added.

Malaya also said the Philippines in July signed with the United Nations the three-year joint program on human rights.

The UN Joint Program seeks to support the Philippine government in strengthening its accountability mechanisms, as well as investigations and data collection on allegations of human rights violations. 

The program also aims to better promote a human rights-based approach to curbing the drug menace. 

In requesting the deferment, Malaya invoked Article 18(2) of the Rome Statute, which states that within one month of receipt of notification with regard to the commencement of an investigation, “a State may inform the Court that it is investigating or has investigated its nationals or others within its jurisdiction” with respect to criminal acts which may constitute crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

“At the request of that State, the Prosecutor shall defer to the State's investigation of those persons unless the Pre-Trial Chamber, on the application of the Prosecutor, decides to authorize the investigation,” the provision stated.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra declined to comment on the embassy's communication to the ICC. 

“The Department of Foreign Affairs is the only agency authorized to give statements or make comments on the ICC cases,” Guevarra told GMA News Online.

In October, Khan said his investigation into the drug war would uncover the truth and ensure accountability among those involved in human rights abuses.

Early this month, Duterte maintained that he would only face a Philippine court and if convicted, would choose to be imprisoned in Muntinlupa.

“I will not allow myself to be judged by white people in another place outside of my country,” Duterte said in his speech during the opening of the Siargao Island Sports and Tourism Complex on November 6. 

Malacañang had also said it would be difficult for the ICC to “uncover the truth” as it insisted that the Philippine government will not cooperate in the investigation owing to the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, in 2019. — VBL/NB, GMA News