NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 20 Dec) — The preliminary report of the International Criminal Court (ICC) released last Tuesday may have caused some anxiety in the Palace. The report claimed there was evidence to show crimes against humanity had been committed in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war, which has left thousands dead since 2016.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said there was “reasonable basis to believe” that crimes against humanity were committed in the course of the anti-narcotics campaign.
Palace defenders were quick in dismissing the report as nothing but a political propaganda to malign the President. The Chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency went ballistic in discrediting the report, claiming it was based on wrong information and manufactured data fed to the ICC by the political opposition. There is no way it can progress, much more, succeed.
President Duterte showed his usual bravado saying he wouldn’t mind going to jail if the International Criminal Court would find him guilty of committing crimes against humanity.
“Kung may ginawa kami, sige. Kung makulong, eh ’di makulong (If we did something, then okay. We go to jail, if we have to),” he said, implying that he would not be alone but his cohorts in the infamous drug war would also join him in jail if convicted.
Should the ICC give Prosecutor Bensouda the go-signal to conduct a full-blown investigation, Mr. Duterte and his lieutenants involved in the brutal drug war may be formally charged with international crimes, issued arrest warrants and be held in custody for the trial. If this happens, Mr. Duterte would be the second head of state to go through the ICC process. A little ahead of him is Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan (1993-2019), who was charged of genocide.
Such an investigation to progress, however, requires the cooperation of the State of the suspect. This, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda managed to secure from the new Sudanese government. Former President Omar al- Bashir is now facing prosecution. The former President and his two other co-accused are now jailed in Sudan and will be handed to the ICC for the much awaited trial.
It is the fortune of suspect Rodrigo Roa Duterte that he is the incumbent President of the State where cooperation is required. The possibility is, therefore, nil that his government will cooperate in a process that would disgrace and put him down.
Already, the Palace declared it would not cooperate in the investigation. It claims the country is no longer bound to the rules of the ICC because it has already withdrawn from said treaty organization. Indeed, when PRRD learned that an information against him for crimes against humanity was filed with the Hague Tribunal, he immediately moved to sever the country’s ties with it. The termination took effect March 17, 2019.
Bensouda, however, said the ICC retains jurisdiction over alleged crimes that have occurred on Philippine territory during the period when it was a state party to the Rome Statute from November 1, 2011 to March 16, 2019.
Meanwhile, the validity of the unilateral executive action of Duterte to withdraw from the Rome Statute was challenged by some senators in the Supreme Court on the argument that if a treaty only becomes effective upon ratification by the Senate, its severance requires ratification likewise to be effective. To date the SC has not acted on the petition.
Whatever, as long as Mr. Duterte is president of the country no one in government would ever dare work with the ICC in bringing him to justice. ICC legal team would be persona non grata and would not be allowed to step on Philippine soil. The Bureau of Immigration and the state security forces would never allow anyone to touch the most popular President the country ever had.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has nothing to worry then. He is safe from the ICC so long as he is commander-in-chief or until June 30, 2022. Once out of Malacañang Palace and an adversarial administration takes over, his safety net may no longer hold. His fate may abruptly change.
Expect, therefore, some very rugged if not turbulent presidential elections come May 2022. Watch how the ex-mayor of Davao City will do his Herculean best or his worst to secure the win of his anointed to preserve his own skin. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)