Remulla: PH to ‘stop engaging’ with ICC despite probe

Former President Rodrigo Duterte, who initiated a bloody war on drugs that killed thousands of suspects during his term, should stay away from countries where the International Criminal Court (ICC) has influence, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said Wednesday.

Remulla said the same holds true for Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who led the war on drugs when he was Duterte’s national police chief.

Both are subjects of an ICC investigation triggered by charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed under Duterte’s leadership.

Remulla also said the Philippines will stop engaging with the ICC as he will advise the Office of the Solicitor General to stop engaging with the court.

“They are citizens of the republic who also need our protection so we need to tell them,” Remulla said, as he pointed out that countries to be avoided are those in Europe.

On ICC’s prosecutors, the Justice chief said in Filipino: “We don’t need them in our country. We don’t want them coming over here. And they shouldn’t try coming over because what they’ll do is the usurpation of the authority of the Philippine government.”

“We’ll all have a problem with that. If they do, they’re defying our law and our legal system,” he told reporters at a press conference at the DOJ offices.

On July 18, the ICC’s Appeals Chamber denied the Philippines’ appeal to stop the probe on Duterte’s war on drugs. With the denial, ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor can resume the probe, order the indictment, and recommend the issuance of arrest warrants.

At least 6,200 suspects were killed in police operations based on government records under the controversial war on drugs. Human rights groups, however, said the actual death toll could be from 12,000 to 30,000.

In a statement, the DOJ expressed its “deep disappointment and strong disagreement with the recent ruling.”

“The principle of complementarity enshrined in the Rome Statute, recognizes the primary jurisdiction of national courts to prosecute crimes and ensures that the ICC only intervenes when national authorities are unable or unwilling to do so,” the DOJ said.

The DOJ said that the two dissenting ICC judges “highlight the errors in the majority decision.”

“These dissenting Justices rightly recognized the Philippines’ commitment to upholding the rule of law and maintaining an independent and effective legal system,” it also said.

“Their dissenting opinions underscore the existence of a legitimate difference of legal interpretation, casting doubts on the majority’s ruling,” it added.

The DOJ said it was committed “to the pursuit of justice and accountability.”

“We will continue to work diligently to address any credible allegations of human rights violations within our jurisdiction. Our justice system stands ready to ensure a fair and impartial investigation, prosecution, and appropriate punishment for any proven crimes,” it said.

The DOJ also said it is committed to “the well-being and support of all victims affected by the drug war.”

“We encourage individuals who have evidence or witnesses related to the drug war to contact our dedicated task force or reach out to our local offices,” it said.

“The Department of Justice will treat all information with the utmost confidentiality and will take appropriate actions based on the evidence provided,” the DOJ said.

Duterte shrugged off the ICC decision, said his former spokesperson and one-time human rights lawyer Harry Roque.

Roque added that Duterte has maintained his stance that he be questioned only by Philippine courts and Filipino judges because the Philippines is a sovereign state.

“He has time and again said that because of this, he will face all his accusers anytime but before Philippine courts and before Filipino judges only,” he added.

Roque cited President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s previous statement that the country will not cooperate with the ICC which he said has no legal right to conduct any investigation in the Philippines due to the country’s withdrawal from Rome Statute in 2018.

Duterte had pulled the country out of the ICC when it announced it would investigate his drug war.

Earlier, ICC Presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said three out of five judges rejected the country’s appeals.

“It is rejected by the appeals chamber by majority and the impugned decision is therefore confirmed,” said the presiding judge.

Former senator Leila de Lima, detained on drug charges filed by the Duterte administration, said she welcomed the ICC’s decision to dismiss the Philippines’ appeal and push through with its investigation.

“This is the last attempt of the Philippine government to go to the aid of those responsible for the murder of thousands of Filipinos in Duterte’s drug war,” she said. “From hereon, the OTP will soon come out with specific indictments, together with the issuance of arrest warrants, hopefully before the end of the year. By that time, the accused can no longer be represented and aided by the Philippine government but instead have to face the ICC on their own.

“This is justice falling hard on Duterte and his cohorts as they find their world getting smaller, especially once the BBM Administration decides not to actively resist ICC efforts to arrest them here in the Philippines. Now it is Duterte’s time to answer for his crimes against God and the Filipino people. Soon it will also be his moment to plead for mercy, once his world gets as small as the ICC prison cell that is already waiting for him in The Hague.”

A lawyer for the families of the victims of the Duterte administration’s drug war lauded the ICC decision, saying it is a “major step towards justice.”

CenterLaw Philippines, counsel for relatives of drug war victims “from hard-hit areas in Metro Manila,” said the decision is a “concrete answer to the prayers of the victims’ communities who are still seeking justice for their murdered family members under the Duterte war on drugs”.

“CenterLaw trusts the judicial mechanism of the ICC and is confident that perpetrators of the war on drugs will be tried for their actions,” he added.

‘’The majority decision does not alter the fact that the republic, through its various national and local agencies, remains fully committed to the internal investigation and prosecution of allegations connected to the anti-illegal drug campaign,’’ it said.

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, who was Duterte’s Justice secretary, said anyone charged by the ICC may still raise “the unresolved issue of jurisdiction.”

“This unresolved issue of jurisdiction will be a powerful argument for any person who may be charged by the ICC,” Guevarra said. “The gaping hole in the ICC decision was its failure to rule on jurisdiction.”

Guevarra insisted that the Philippines never accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction, whether expressly or impliedly, “as we were very much aware that our withdrawal from the ICC had taken effect in 2019.”

“We made it clear that our continued engagement with the ICC was borne out of comity only and a shared commitment to end impunity,” he said.

Guevarra lamented that the ICC Appeals Chamber ‘’refused to recognize the Philippine government’s primary and sovereign right to investigate serious crimes, in derogation of the complementarity principle so fundamental to the working of the international criminal justice system of which the ICC forms part.’’

Lawyer Ruben Carranza, a senior expert at the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, said that the issuance of arrest warrants or summons can now take place after the ICC Appeals Chamber rejected the Philippine government’s appeal and allowed the investigations to proceed.

“At this stage, the prosecutor can actually already decide who he might charge with crimes against humanity, which is what the original request to be allowed to investigate was meant to do,” Carranza said on ANC “Headstart.”

“And once he decides who he wants to charge for crimes against humanity… the prosecutor can then also ask the Pre-Trial Chamber to ensure either warrants of arrest… Or if he feels that these persons can or are willing to appear at the ICC even without being arrested, he can ask the Pre-Trial Chamber to issue the summons,” he said.

In other developments:

* Senator Risa Hontiveros expressed hope that President Marcos and agencies of the executive will cooperate with the ICC so that true justice is obtained.

* Dela Rosa said he was unperturbed by the ICC decision, insisting that I has no jurisdiction over the case. He also maintained that nothing would come of the ICC investigation. He also said he would not travel to any ICC-member countries if a warrant of arrest or summons is issued against him.

* Senator Francis Tolentino said portions of the dissenting opinions of two ICC judges clearly showed it had no jurisdiction over the Philippines.