Marcos: Philippines ‘will not lift a finger’ to help ICC drug-war probe

Jason Gutierrez and Jeoffrey Maitem
Marcos: Philippines ‘will not lift a finger’ to help ICC drug-war probe Then-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte talks with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, at the presidential palace in Manila, May 31, 2021.
Richard Madelo/Malacañang Presidential Photographers Division via AP

An International Criminal Court investigation into his predecessor’s deadly drug war is a threat to the country’s sovereignty and his government will not cooperate with the probe, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Tuesday.

His administration will not bar ICC investigators from entering the Philippines and doing their jobs in investigating former President Rodrigo Duterte. But government agencies won’t be made accessible to them and they will be constantly monitoring, the Philippine leader warned.

“Let me say this for the 100th time. I do not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC in the Philippines. I do not. I consider it as a threat to our sovereignty. The Philippine government will not lift a finger to help any investigation that the ICC conducts,” Marcos told reporters.

“However, as ordinary people, they can come and visit the Philippines but we will not help them. In fact, we are keeping an eye on them, making sure that they do not come into contact with any agency of the government,” he said.

Should ICC representatives attempt to contact any government officials, Marcos said: “Don’t answer. That’s our answer.”

Marcos is under pressure from human rights groups who want his immediate predecessor, Duterte, to be tried for alleged crimes against humanity. An estimated 8,000 suspected drug dealers and users were killed during the war on illegal drugs launched under Duterte’s administration (2016-2022).

The Philippine president issued the statement after former Sen. Antonio Trillanes, a staunch critic of Duterte, said on Sunday that an ICC team had been in the country last month to gather evidence.

The senator had helped relatives of some of the victims killed in the drug war file a lawsuit before the ICC that helped pave the way for investigation into former President Duterte by The Hague-based court.

“Based on my reliable sources, the ICC team was in the country [in] December and they were able to finish their investigation as far as the primary accused are concerned,” Trillanes told BenarNews.

“The next step is the application for a warrant with the pre-trial chamber, which may take a couple of months before deciding to issue a warrant of arrest.”

Catholic priest Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva arranges flowers and urns during a groundbreaking ceremony for the first memorial to victims of Philippine extrajudicial killings, at the La Loma Cemetery in Caloocan City, Metro Manila, Dec. 11, 2023. [Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

BenarNews reached out to the ICC on Tuesday to confirm Trillanes’ statement, but officials at the world court declined to comment on his remarks, saying only that the court was “pursuing its efforts to deliver justice to victims in the Philippines.”

“While pursuing its investigation, the office will seek to engage and establish a dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, including the Philippine Government and civil society,” the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor said in an email.

“Protecting the confidentiality of our work is crucial, to ensure the safety of all those the office interacts with and to protect the integrity of our operations. Therefore, the Office does not comment on operational matters with respect to ongoing investigations. We are unable to confirm or deny any information contained in your request,” it said.

In the past, the ICC has said that investigations would continue because the Philippines had failed to convince the body that it had no jurisdiction over the case.

Last week, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that Manila may allow the ICC to investigate if it followed legal procedures.

“We’re not here to stop them because if they’re not doing anything illegal, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Remulla told Japanese news agency Kyodo. “If they’re getting statements, they’re getting evidence. It’s okay. But we have to clarify many issues, especially about procedure.”

Meanwhile, Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, who is Marcos’ vice president, said she was surprised to find out from news reports that witnesses had come forward to testify against her in the ICC.

The reports said they had given testimony about alleged death squads that operated in Davao City, when Sara Duterte served as mayor there from 2016 to 2022. Before he became president in 2016, her father also served as mayor of Davao City.

On Tuesday, local new outlets quoted her as saying that she did not need “a death squad for things she could do on her own.”

“But I will only face any charge against me before a Filipino judge – and only before a Filipino court,” she said, echoing the line that her father has repeatedly used. “I will not be a part of a process that will bring shame to our country and crush the dignity of our judges, courts and the entire justice system of the Philippines,” she said.

Marcos, who took office in 2022, has been showing a willingness to reverse some of Duterte’s policies.

He has realigned the Philippines back with the United States, its traditional ally, and has stood up to harassment by China in disputed South China Sea waters. This is a marked contrast to Duterte’s anti-West policy, in which he fully embraced China and praised Russia.

During his time in power, Duterte openly ridiculed the ICC.

In 2019, he withdrew the Philippines from the Rome Statute, an international treaty that led to the establishment of the world court, after the ICC began an inquiry into his drug war. The former president had said that by disengaging from the ICC, he hoped his administration’s drug war would no longer be placed under a spotlight.

Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said nations that withdraw from the treaty are not exempt from being investigated.

“Setting aside the caveat about the legality of an ICC presence, we urge the government to abide by the Rome Statute, which affirms that states who withdrew still have the duty and obligation to cooperate with ICC investigations,” Conde told BenarNews.

“We hope this leads to a more fruitful engagement by the Marcos admin with the ICC. The thousands of victims of the drug war who are still seeking justice and accountability deserve no less,” he said.

Duterte, 78, is facing two complaints before the ICC.

One was filed by a former police officer, a self-styled assassin who accused Duterte of ordering the deaths of opponents and criminals when Duterte served as mayor of Davao City. The second was filed by relatives of people killed during Duterte’s anti-drug campaign under his presidency.

Marcos succeeded Duterte after winning the May 2022 general election and later promised that no ICC investigator would be allowed into the country. 

He took Duterte’s position that the Philippines has a working justice system and can try its own cases.

Mark Navales and Jojo Riñoza in Manila contributed to this report.


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