Politically motivated? Palace accuses ICC prosecutor after request to probe ‘war on drugs’

June 15, 2021 - 5:21 PM
An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2021. (Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo)

Is the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court against the Duterte administration?

Such comments came after some Filipinos learned of the Palace’s reaction following outgoing ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request for authorization to probe the administration’s “War on Drugs” campaign.

“I announce that the preliminary examination into the situation in the Republic of the Philippines has concluded and that I have requested judicial authorization to proceed with a (formal criminal) investigation,” she said in a statement released on Monday.

Bensouda added that there is “reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder” has been committed in the Philippines between July 2016 and March 2019 in the context of the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.

“Following a thorough preliminary examination process, the available information indicates that members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians during that time,” her statement further reads.

The “war on drugs” campaign has placed the administration in a spotlight as rights groups believe drug suspects were summarily executed while local police say they violently fought back against authorities.

The initiative was launched when President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, banked by a cornerstone presidential campaign to suppress drugs and criminality in the country.

The Palace, in response, accused Bensouda’s move of being “legally erroneous” and “politically motivated,” saying that Duterte will never cooperate with the permanent and autonomous court.

His spokesperson additionally claimed that Bensouda only wanted to prove that she could also go after non-African nationals, a claim he didn’t substantiate.

“We do not need foreigners to investigate the drug war because our legal system is functioning in the Philippines,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, a former human rights lawyer, was quoted as saying.

“They will just waste the court’s time and resources because without the cooperation of the Philippine state, they would not be able to build a case except based on hearsay evidence from communists and politicians who are enemies of the president,” he further said.

Meanwhile, the Palace official’s remarks about Bensouda being “politically motivated” with her request to probe the Philippines left some social media users raising their eyebrows.

“Politically motivated? What does the ICC care about the Philippine politics?” a Twitter user wondered in response to Roque’s comments.

“I’m sure the Malacañang will say that the ICC is ‘delawan (dilawan),'” another online user remarked, referencing the derogatory term used to call supporters of the opposition Liberal Party that has yellow as its official color.

Duterte also refers to the opposition and his critics as “dilawans.”

“How is the ICC politically motivated? May tinatago ba kayo?” asked a different Filipino in response to Roque’s comment.

“Pulitika lang ‘yan, baka kasi gusto ni ICC tumakbo sa 2022 elections,” another Twitter user quipped sarcastically.

Bensouda in her released statement stressed that her office “does not take a position on any government’s internal policies and initiatives intended to address the production, distribution and consumption of psychoactive substances within the parameters of the law and due process of law.”

She added that in the present case, “it is duly acting strictly in accordance with its specific and clearly defined mandate and obligations under the Statute.”

A note below her statement also includes a disclosure with the following statement:

“The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC conducts independent and impartial preliminary examinations, investigations and prosecutions of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.” 

ICC’s “about” webpage on the prosecutor likewise noted that its office is “an independent organ of the Court.”

The permanent court is governed by an international treaty known as the Rome Statute.

ICC is established in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression when member states are unwilling or unable to do so themselves.

Its history stems from the proposal to establish an international criminal tribunal in the aftermath of the First World War.