Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC won’t stop its probe into the drug war

The membership of the Philippines into the International Criminal Court was an endeavor that spanned 11 years and 3 presidentships. Last March 17, that membership was withdrawn at the behest of President Duterte. The withdrawal occurred after a waiting period of 1 year since the written notice was submitted, despite protests from the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the people.

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The executive office maintains the withdrawal was done on the basis of protecting the Philippines’ sovereignty. It was triggered after a probe into possible crimes against humanity in the president’s drug war began. The probe was taken as a slight against the sovereign ability of the President to enact policies.


Despite the withdrawal, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda still very much holds jurisdiction over a probe into the drug war. Because the probe was initiated in February 2018, when the Philippines was still a member, the ICC has the right to complete the probe and take any necessary action. Bensouda recently released a statement assuring that “our independent & impartial preliminary examination into the situation in The Philippines continues.”

Toby Cadman, an international human rights lawyer, explains:

The suspension of the withdrawal for a period of 12 months … is to prevent situations just like this where a state is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and they withdraw to shield themselves from prosecution.

The whole point is that you cannot be permitted to do that. So the ICC will continue and will have jurisdiction over prosecuting the president and senior officials who are considered to be responsible.

Admittedly, any continued investigation will prove difficult. While the ICC has the legal ability to investigate, they may not have the practical ability to do so. According to Priya Pillai, an international lawyer with expertise in international justice and human rights, the problem lies in cooperation. States are not beholden to grant ICC prosecutors aid or manpower in their investigation. This means it often becomes impossible to gain evidence or serve warrants since they are forced to depend on the respective State’s own police force.

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The president has already made it clear that the administration will refuse to cooperate. He recently said in a speech, “[the ICC] can never acquire jurisdiction over my person, not in a million years.”

What do you think of the Philippines withdrawing from the ICC?

Sources: Aljazeera, Rappler