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Moment of reckoning

/ 05:07 AM March 23, 2021

Stop it already: That’s Harry Roque’s advice to the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose investigation of President Duterte’s war on drugs is supposedly a waste of time following the Supreme Court’s dismissal of petitions challenging Mr. Duterte’s unilateral withdrawal of the Philippines from the ICC.

The Hague-based tribunal should not bother with its inquiry “as we do not recognize ICC jurisdiction over the Philippines, as well as in the face of uncontroverted proof that domestic legal and judicial processes are functioning normally in our country,” insisted Roque.

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The Malacañang mouthpiece should really talk more with his principal. For even as Roque is trying to swat the ICC scrutiny away, the President himself has been daring the court and declaring his willingness to be subjected to investigation and censure. Ranting against the looming ICC probe has been a staple fare in the presidential monologues, the latest of which was during a March 18 visit in Tacloban City where Mr. Duterte said he would gladly go to jail for killing communists and human rights activists: “I will not think twice. Kill human rights (activists)? Okay. I will go to jail? Good, I’d be happy. Anyway, I am old. I won’t stay long in prison.’’

Loud and clear. Better yet, Roque should talk to his old self. In 2011, as head of the Philippine coalition that had lobbied for Philippine membership in the ICC, Roque was profuse with praise for the Senate and then President Benigno Aquino III when the country ratified the Rome Statute, the international treaty that created the ICC. “On behalf of all victims of impunity, I express my gratitude to both the Senate and Pnoy for finally granting the Filipino people an effective remedy to impunity,” he wrote in a blog.

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What has become of the former human rights lawyer? Completely transmogrified into the barker now hard at work defending the first Philippine president to face a potential grave case in the ICC. Roque’s latest broadside at his former object of affection springs from the Supreme Court’s decision last week throwing out two petitions against the Philippine withdrawal for being “moot and academic.’’ Though the text of the ruling has yet to be released, the Supreme Court public information office said the high tribunal “acknowledged that the President, as primary architect of foreign policy, is subject to the Constitution and existing statutes.’’ More: “The Court also noted that the judiciary has enough powers to protect human rights contrary to speculations raised by the petitioners.’’

Opposition senators filed a petition on May 16, 2018, arguing that the Philippine withdrawal from the Rome Statute required concurrence of at least two-thirds of the members of the Senate. Another petition said the President committed grave abuse of discretion when he unilaterally withdrew membership from the ICC, the body that investigates and prosecutes individuals for genocide, war crimes, crime of aggression, and crimes against humanity.

Mr. Duterte angrily called for the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC in March 2018, a month after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the court was opening a preliminary examination (the first stage before a formal investigation) following reports of extrajudicial killings in police anti-drug operations. The withdrawal took effect in March 2019, but the ICC maintains that the court “retains its jurisdiction over crimes committed during the time in which the State was party to the Statute and may exercise this jurisdiction even after the withdrawal becomes effective.” That means the ICC inquiry on Mr. Duterte is far from over—not when the killings of activists, lawyers, drug victims, and others continue without letup, and not with a dismal record of only one conviction so far out of at least 5,000 drug victims killed in police operations to show for the administration’s alleged serious efforts at accountability and addressing the situation.

In December 2020, Bensouda found “reasonable basis to believe’’ that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs constitutes crimes against humanity, for the murder, torture, and serious physical injury and mental harm inflicted on thousands of victims from July 2016 to mid-March 2019.

Bensouda said the ICC’s goal to conclude its preliminary examination of the drug war was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and “capacity constraints’’ of her office. “Nonetheless, the Office anticipates reaching a decision on whether to seek authorization to open an investigation into the situation in the Philippines in the first half of 2021.” (A new ICC prosecutor, criminal lawyer and human rights expert Karim Khan of the United Kingdom, will succeed Bensouda effective June 16 this year.)

Evidently, it is this moment of reckoning that, going by the constant rants from the Palace, is causing some people a lot of sleepless nights.

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TAGS: Editorial, EJKs, extrajudicial killings, ICC, Rodrigo Duterte
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