ICC officials who visit PH may face deportation if caught probing gov't drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 18) — The government warned Monday that officials and prosecutors of the International Criminal Court (ICC) may face deportation if they visit the country to conduct a probe into President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, in his press briefing Monday, said ICC prosecutors and officials can visit the Philippines as tourists and "guests."

However, if they are found making moves to start a probe into the administration's controversial drug war, the officials may face deportation.

"Just smile at them and tell them nicely, 'you can't do it here.' But if you persist, you will be deported," Panelo said when asked if the ICC will insist on pursuing an investigation.

"They can come here as guests, visitors. Pero (But) any move that will be deemed as a violation of our laws, may problema sila doon (they'll have a problem with that)," the spokesman added.

The country's withdrawal from the ICC became official on Sunday, though Malacañang insists that the Philippines was never under the ICC's jurisdiction to begin with. While the Philippines ratified the Rome Statute that created the ICC, the administration said the government never published that in a newspaper or the official gazette, as required by law.

President Rodrigo Duterte in March 2018 announced the country's pullout from the ICC -following supposed attacks against him and his administration as well as the international court's attempt to put him under jurisdiction.

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.

Sabio in 2017 submitted to the ICC a 77-page document on the killings, formally called by the tribunal as a "communication." The lawyer likewise earlier said the ICC may launch an investigation into the government's drug war before the withdrawal.

Duterte had slammed what he said were efforts to use the ICC as a "as a political tool against the Philippines"-- a sentiment echoed by Panelo himself.

"The ICC has become a political tool of using its power to politically persecute heads of state, thereby intruding into the sovereignty of this country," Panelo told reporters.

"Certainly, we will not allow any attempt at interfering with the sovereignty of this country. That includes everything that will stop them from committing any acts that will (violate) our laws."

The ICC, an intergovernmental organization that investigates cases of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression, was established by the Rome Statute, which was enforced in 2002.

Panelo earlier said the government will not assist the ICC in any probe as it has no jurisdiction over the country.

He told the briefing Monday that prosecutor Fatou Bensouda -- who last year launched a preliminary examination into the government's drug war -- can come freely to the country without fear of being stopped-- or slapped, as Duterte had previously threatened to do so.

"Si Presidente talaga mahilig talaga mag-hyperbole. Walang sampalang mangyayari," the spokesman said.

[Translation: The President is fond of making hyperbole. There will be no slapping.]

"I don't think that lady will be coming here," Panelo, however, noted. 

Bensouda, in a statement last year, said a preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining information available to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation. She said as prosecutor, she must consider issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice to make that determination.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong and Alyssa Rola contributed to this report.