Updated at 12:13 p.m. ET on 2019-03-14
The Philippine government said Thursday it would not cooperate should the International Criminal Court (ICC) push through with a formal investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign that has killed thousands.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that as far as Manila was concerned, “they cannot do anything against us.”
He said the case in Manila was different from Burundi, which also quit the ICC but was still being investigated because a case against the landlocked African nation had already been filed before it left the court, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands.
The ICC, which was set up 16 years ago to prosecute those behind the world’s worst atrocities, had said that it found reasonable basis to believe that Burundi state agents launched widespread attacks against local civilians.
“The situation in the Philippines is different because we said that under the Rome Statute, if there is a preliminary investigation or any proceeding referring to the preliminary investigation, when there is one prior to the effectivity of the withdrawal, they can still proceed with the investigation,” Panelo said, referring to the treaty that established ICC.
“They don’t have jurisdiction. If they don’t have jurisdiction, they cannot do anything against us,” he told reporters. “We are not bound by their rules.”
Panelo’s statement came hours before Duterte released a list of 43 politicians who were running for local posts in May and who, according to the president, were allegedly involved in drugs. Duterte released the names in a publicly televised speech in his southern hometown of Davao city.
"So I will just be clear that the last remaining years of my office will be the most dangerous years for a person into drug trafficking," Duterte said.
"My decision to unmask theses drug personalities was anchored on my trust in the government agencies who have vetted and validated the narco-list," he said.
Duterte said administrative cases had already been filed against those in the list by the interior department at the state ombudsman's office. The government's anti-money laundering council would also conduct investigations "the results of which will aid us in filing airtight cases against them," the president said.
He said there were others in his list, which he said were compiled and vetted by drug enforcement and police officials.
In August of 2016, just two months after he assumed the presidency, Duterte publicly named 150 judges, police and military personnel as well as local government officials whom he said were involved in drugs.
At least a dozen mayors and seven deputy mayors named in that list had been killed either in gun battles with police or were assassinated by unknown gunmen described as vigilantes.
One of those mayors gunned down was killed inside his jail cell, after he had already surrendered, while another was felled by an assassin during a flag-raising ceremony.
He released the list a day after criticizing his political opponents for calling for an ICC investigation.
“You sons of bitches, you can never acquire jurisdiction over my person,” Duterte said. “Not in a million years.”
He said that the treaty that the government signed previously did not go through proper procedures, therefore was invalid.
Duterte won the presidency three years ago on a promise to rid the country of criminality. The brash president vowed to go after drug addicts and dealers, and policemen under his watch lost no time in launching a deadly crackdown.
Since then, more than 5,000 suspected drug addicts and dealers have been killed in what authorities had described as legitimate shootouts during law-enforcement operations. Rights groups said that the figure could be more than four times that number. The police have also been accused of summarily killing suspects.
In a report it published in January, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the drug war expanded to areas outside Manila in 2018, including the nearby suburbs of Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and the cities of Cebu and General Santos in the central and southern Philippines.
The president is facing two complaints before the ICC. The first was filed by a former policeman and a self-confessed assassin who alleged that Duterte ordered the killings of criminals and opponents, when the president was the longtime mayor of southern Davao city; and a second case, filed by relatives of eight people killed in the drug war.
CORRECTION: An earlier version wrongly stated that the ICC was based in Geneva.