ICC chamber rejects PH bid to suspend drug war probe pending ruling on its main appeal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 28)  The International Criminal Court's (ICC) Appeals Chamber has rejected the Philippine government's request to suspend investigation into the Duterte administration's war against illegal drugs pending resolution of Manila's main appeal against the resumption of the probe.

"The Appeals Chamber rejects the request of the Republic of the Philippines for suspensive effect of the aforementioned decision of Pre-Trial Chamber I," the March 27 decision read.

“In the absence of persuasive reasons in support of ordering suspensive effect, the Appeals Chamber rejects the request. This is without prejudice to its eventual decision on the merits of the Philippines’ appeal against the Impugned Decision,” it added.

"This means while the appeals chamber considers the question, the prosecutor may proceed with investigation," ICC assistant to counsel Kristina Conti explained.

After the ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber authorized the resumption of the drug war probe in January, the Office of the Solicitor General on March 13 filed an appeal brief which sought the reversal of the ICC’s decision to resume the investigation.

RELATED: PH gov’t appeal vs. ICC drug war probe resumption a rehash - lawyer

Solicitor General Menardo Gueverra told CNN Philippines on March 22 that the government cited “legal errors” of the ICC pre-trial chamber in the appeal brief. This includes questioning the ICC’s position that it has automatic jurisdiction over the crimes committed from November 2011 to March 16, 2019 when the country was still a State Party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the treaty that established the tribunal.

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Guevarra also said the probe may cause inconvenience among those involved since the ICC has yet to establish its jurisdiction.

But the ICC’s Appeals Chamber said the Philippine government has failed “to explain how the alleged absence of jurisdictional or legal basis for the resumption of the Prosecutor’s activities pending the resolution of the appeal would ‘defeat its very purpose and create an irreversible situation that could not be corrected.’”

The chamber also said Manila was unable to show what it claims to be the implications of the ICC prosecutor’s activities on the suspects, witnesses, and victims, and how the probe will lead to “irreversible” consequences.

It also pointed out that the Philippines can still continue with its own investigation while the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber conducts its own probe.

PH still won’t cooperate

Despite the Appeals Chamber’s decision, Guevarra said the ICC still cannot expect any cooperation from Philippine authorities at this stage.

“The president himself has stated that the government will not cooperate unless and until itong [these] issues about jurisdiction, admissibility, et cetera, have been finally settled,” the solicitor general told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Guevarra also maintained that the probe should have been halted pending the final outcome of the main appeal to prevent possibly irreversible harm to the Philippines.

“Kung sakaling in the end ay magiging desisyon pala ay wala silang jurisdiction, the harm has already been done,” Guevarra argued, calling the latest resolution “quite unfair.”

“Meron nang nangyari na hindi na natin mare-reverse, kasi maaaring meron nang ipaaresto ‘yang prosecutor, mae-embarrass na, mahu-humiliate na ang Republic of the Philippines before the international community,” he also said.

[Translation: If in the end, the ruling is that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the country, the harm has already been done by then. There could have been irreversible actions, because the prosecutor may have already ordered the arrest of certain individuals, and the Republic of the Philippines would have been humiliated before the international community.]

But while it may appear a “dead end” for now on the part of the government, Guevarra said specific individuals whom the ICC may investigate can still question the tribunal’s jurisdiction and the admissibility of the case.

Meanwhile, Conti, the ICC assistant to counsel, welcomed the latest decision which she deems a step closer to justice.

“So far, the ICC proceedings is on track and aligned with our search for genuine justice for the victims of grave rights violations,” she wrote in a statement.

However, the lawyer said it remains a concern that domestic investigations – which the ICC said the government may continue — are “not transparent, comprehensive, and conducive enough to earn the victims trust.”