Int'l Criminal Court to begin preliminary examination on PH killings

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 8) — The country's drug war gains global attention as the International Criminal Court (ICC) will begin a preliminary examination to determine if an investigation is needed.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced this through a statement Thursday. She said the international tribunal will look into the country’s situation following a “careful, independent, and impartial review of a number of communication and reports.”

“It has been alleged that since July 2016, thousands of persons have been killed for reasons related to their alleged involvement in illegal drug use or dealing,” Bensouda said.

She also said while some of the killings occurred in clashes between and within gangs, it is alleged that many of the incidents were extrajudicial killings during police anti-drug operations.

The ICC, which complements national courts, handles what it defines as "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole." These include genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression.

Bensouda emphasized that a preliminary examination is not an investigation, but a process of examining information to determine whether there is basis to proceed with an investigation.

“I, as prosecutor, must consider issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interest of justice in making this determination,” she said.

Bensouda added her office will coordinate with national authorities to discuss relevant investigation and prosecution.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier announced the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor had already informed Philippine officials about the development.

Roque said he met with President Rodrigo Duterte for more than two hours Wednesday night to discuss the ICC move.

"The President has said that he also welcomes this preliminary examination because he is sick and tired of being accused of the commission of crimes against humanity," Roque said.

The President sees the ICC examination as an opportunity to belie allegations against him, Roque added.

However, Roque said the ICC move is a waste of time and resources, saying communications were filed by the President's enemies to embarrass him.

The ICC is looking into the drug war after Jude Sabio filed a communication in April 2017. Sabio is the lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, who said he killed people in Davao City upon the orders of then Mayor Duterte.

Sabio accused Duterte of "repeatedly, unchangingly, and continuously" committing mass murder. He said 1,400 individuals were killed by the so-called Davao Death Squad under the leadership of then Mayor Duterte, and 7,000 individuals were killed in the government's war on drugs since Duterte took office.

READ: Lawyer asks international court to look into 'mass murder' in PH

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano filed a supplemental complaint against Duterte at the ICC in June. They are two of Duterte's strongest critics.

In a statement Thursday, Sabio said he is "elated and vindicated" by the ICC's move, which he see as a "prelude to formal criminal investigation" against Duterte.

"I am confident that based on my communication as well as that of Sen. Trillanes and Cong. Alejano, we will hurdle this first big step, and hopefully a warrant of arrest will be issued by the ICC against Duterte and his cohorts," Sabio said.

Trillanes also welcomed the ICC's move. "This development should jolt Duterte into realizing that he is not above the law. More importantly, this is the first step for the victims' families' quest for justice."

READ: Trillanes, Alejano urge international court to look into Duterte's drug war

Roque reiterated that the country's drug war, with over 3,900 drug suspects killed in police operations, cannot be considered a crime against humanity.

"The ongoing war against drugs is an exercise of police power… It cannot be characterized as an attack against civilian populations because they are civilians. It is a lawful use of force," he said.

He said the President is willing to argue his case personally before the ICC if it proceeds with a formal investigation.

In its web site, the ICC said it is is participating in a global fight to end impunity, and aims to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes. It seeks to complement, not replace, national courts. The ICC has indicted leaders, including Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir and Kenyan President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta for genocide and crimes against humanity.

"In our case they will not go beyond preliminary examination," Roque said.

Prior to the filing of any communication against Duterte, the ICC's chief prosecutor in October 2016 already expressed concern over alleged extrajudicial killings in the anti-drug campaign.

READ: Int'l Criminal Court chief prosecutor warns PH over drug killings