By Christine O. Avendaño, March 19 2019; Philippine Daily Inquirer

Image Credit to Manila Bulletin

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors will be denied entry and deported if they try to enter the Philippines to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte for crimes against humanity, Malacañang said on Monday.

“Certainly we will not allow any attempt at interfering with the sovereignty of this country,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters a day after the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC became official.

The President withdrew the Philippines from the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal last year after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she had opened a preliminary examination of information brought against the Philippine leader about thousands of extrajudicial killings in his brutal war on drugs.

Investigation can go on

Under ICC rules, the Philippines’ withdrawal took force one year after it told the United Nations that it was quitting the tribunal.

Legal experts, however, have said the Philippines’ withdrawal will not stop the ICC from investigating the President for possible crimes against humanity because the alleged killings took place during the country’s membership in the court.

The President has made it clear his administration will not cooperate with ICC prosecutors.

Panelo said on Monday that ICC prosecutors could come into the country as visitors but not as investigators.

“I will smile at them and tell them nicely, ‘You cannot do it here. If you persist, you will be deported,’” Panelo said.

He said immigration officials had the discretion to deny entry to foreigners found to be attempting to violate the country’s laws.

Panelo noted that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the United States would withdraw or deny visas to ICC prosecutors investigating possible war crimes by US soldiers or US allies in Afghanistan.

Panelo also dismissed the claim of lawyer Jude Josue Sabio, who brought the information against the President in the ICC, that the tribunal could investigate the President even after the Philippines’ withdrawal.

He said the President’s position was “unequivocal and inflexible”—the ICC had never acquired jurisdiction over the Philippines.

The reason: the Rome Statute that underpins the ICC, although ratified by the Senate, was never published in the Official Gazette.

‘Warped reasoning’

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima scoffed at Panelo’s position, calling it “wishful thinking and warped reasoning.”

In a statement, De Lima said only a country that admitted being a member of the ICC could withdraw from the Rome Statute.

“If true to its conviction that the Philippines never became a state party to the Rome Statute, the Duterte administration should not have withdrawn, since there was nothing to withdraw. Yet it did, thus recognizing the status of the Philippines as a state party to the Rome Statute since 2011,” De Lima said.

International justice

University of the Philippines (UP) professor Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan, president of the Philippine Society of International Law, said the ICC could investigate the Duterte administration for atrocities committed while the Philippines was member of the tribunal.

“For acts committed during the time we are a member, the ICC continues to acquire jurisdiction. On matters that are already under examination while we are a member, it continues,” said Pangalangan, whose husband, former UP law dean Raul Pangalangan, serves on the ICC. 

Human Rights group Amnesty International also said the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC would not hamper international investigations into Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.

In a statement, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said the Duterte administration’s withdrawal from the ICC was “a futile attempt to evade international justice.”

“The court will continue to investigate those responsible for crimes committed during the so-called war on drugs and has ways and means to investigate, even if the Philippines will not cooperate with it,” Bequelin said.

He said the Philippines’ withdrawal would not change the fact that those responsible for crimes under international law committed during the war on drugs would be “held to account in the ICC or through other international justice initiatives.” —With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Jaymee T. Gamil and AFP