PH withdrawal from ICC takes effect Sunday

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 17) — The Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court has taken effect.

Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he will pull the country out from the international court’s jurisdiction following a case filed against him for in relation to his violent anti-drug campaign.

The case was filed by lawyer Jude Sabio, who also represents self-confessed ‘Davao Death Squad’ hitmen Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas. Matobato and Lascañas had previously admitted to killing people in Davao City under Duterte’s orders, when he was still city mayor.

In April 2017, Sabio submitted to the ICC a 77-page document on the killings, formally called by the tribunal as a "communication." This was followed by supplemental information from opposition lawmakers Senator Antonio Trillanes and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano. They said over a thousand were killed by the so-called Davao Death Squad, while thousands more were killed in the war on drugs since Duterte became president.

A preliminary investigation was launched by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

The case on the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC is still pending at the Supreme Court.

Duterte, in his recent speeches, slammed Bensouda, and threatened to slap her if she would come to the Philippines.

He also recently said that he is willing to face a death sentence from the ICC for his alleged crimes. The ICC does not implement a death sentence, and instead has life imprisonment as its maximum penalty.

Should the ICC push with its investigation, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government will not assist them.

Bakit ka mag-co-cooperate kung walang jurisdiction? We’re not bound by their rules,” Panelo said in a press conference March 14.

[Translation: Why will we cooperate when they have no jurisdiction?]

Possible consequences

Critics of the withdrawal said that withdrawing from the ICC would leave the Philippines vulnerable to future attacks, including a possible invasion from China.

“We can not bring President Xi Jinping to the ICC if he invades Pagasa or builds a military base in Scarborough shoal. We will lose that defense. We have no deterrent legally,” Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said during the Supreme Court oral arguments last ‪October 9.‬

The Commission on Human Rights said that the withdrawal is a reversal of the country’s commitment to international treaty obligations. It also casts doubt on the government’s innocence in the recent spate of drug-related killings.

“The task before the Philippine government is to show—beyond words—that it is willing to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the government’s anti-drug war. The best way to move forward is to cooperate in ICC’s preliminary examination and demonstrate its commitment in ending impunity, rather than blocking avenues in seeking justice—and perhaps reconsider its withdrawal from the Rome Statute as stronger sign of its dedication to the rule of law and human rights,” CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement.