ICC Prosecutor: Probe continues despite PH exit

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 19) — The International Criminal Court's scrutiny of the country's war on drugs will continue despite the Philippines' withdrawal from the tribunal, the court's prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Tuesday.

Bensouda, in a tweet said, "Pursuant to article 127.2 of the Statute, and based on prior ICC judicial ruling in the situation in Burundi, the Court retains its jurisdiction over crimes committed during the time in which the State was party to the Statute and may exercise this jurisdiction even after the withdrawal becomes effective."

"My Office's independent and impartial preliminary examination into the situation in the Philippines continues," the ICC prosecutor added.

The country officially withdrew from the ICC on Sunday, making good on President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement in 2017 following a case filed against him over alleged extrajudicial killings in the administration's unrelenting campaign against illegal drugs.

The case was filed in April 2017 by lawyer Jude Sabio. It was a 77-page document on the killings, formally called by the tribunal as a "communication." This was followed by supplemental information from opposition lawmakers Senator Antonio Trillanes and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano.

Sabio is the lawyer of Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas, who both admitted they were hitmen for the so-called "Davao Death Squad."

Bensouda last year launched a preliminary examination on the situation in the Philippines, and depending on the results of that, may decide to start an investigation.

READ: Lawyer says ICC asked him about witnesses vs. Duterte drug war; decision may be out soon

The administration has consistently maintained that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the country, with Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo saying the Philippines would not assist the court in the investigation.

He also said ICC officials who come to the country to probe the situation may be deported.

READ: DFA chief: ICC weaponizes human rights to defend illegal drug trade

Panelo, in a press briefing Tuesday, lambasted Bensouda's supposed "agenda" of political persecution against Duterte and the current administration.

"I don't know why she's doing it," the spokesperson told reporters in Malacañang.

"What I know is that international organizations appear to have conspired against his President. They opt to believe what they have been receiving from this source in the Philippines, false stories, and false situations about this country," he added.

Meanwhile, O-Gon Kwon, the President of the Assembly of States Parties, expressed his regret over the country's withdrawal from the ICC and hoped it was temporary.

"I sincerely hope that the departure of the Philippines from the Rome Statute is only temporary and that it will re-join the Rome Statute family in the future," he said in a statement Monday.

Panelo, however, noted the country's decision to pullout from the tribunal will stay -- especially under Duterte's watch.

He also reiterated that the Philippines' local courts are capable of making public officials -- including presidents -- accountable.

"We have a judicial system which is robust, and functional and very effective," Panelo added.

Ratified in 2002, the Rome Statute is the treaty which established the ICC.

According to the ICC, "In addition to founding the Court and defining the crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and - as of amendments made in 2010 — the crime of aggression, the Rome Statute also sets new standards for victims' representation in the Courtroom, and ensures fair trials and the rights of the defence."