MANILA – Philippines warned on Monday that it will deny visas to prosecutors of the International Criminal Court to prevent a possible investigation into the government’s war against drugs and added that ICC officials will be immediately deported if they managed to the enter the country.
“We will smile at them (prosecutors) and tell them nicely, ‘You can’t do it here. If you persist, you will be deported,’” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing, according to state news agency PNA.
On Sunday, Philippines had formally withdrawn from the Rome Statute – which established the ICC in 1998 – a year after the government, led by President Rodrigo Duterte, had communicated the decision to the United Nations after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda began a preliminary examination of the alleged extra-judicial killings during the anti-drug campaign.
Duterte’s spokesperson said employees of the court will be welcome to visit the country as tourists but will be immediately deported if it was found out that they were investigating the drug war.
“Because when you try to subject a country to your jurisdiction, then you’re interfering with the sovereignty of our country,” said Panelo, adding that the Philippines had the right to prosecute and sentence those who violate the law.
The spokesperson supported Duterte’s claim that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Philippines, because even though the country signed the Rome Statute in 2000 and the Congress ratified it in 2011, this last step was not published in the Official Gazette, making it invalid.
Duterte has been accused of crimes against humanity in the ICC for the abuses committed during his controversial drug war, which has led to the killing of more than 5,000 suspects according to police data, although civil rights groups put the number at more than 20,000.
Six families of victims of the campaign had filed a petition about the drug war in the ICC in August, although the lawsuit, which led the court to order a preliminary probe, was filed in April 2017 by Philippine lawyer Julio Sabio.
Sabio is also representing Edgar Matobato, a man who had admitted before the Filipino Senate that he had been a member of the so-called “Davao death squads” between 1988 and 2013, allegedly set up by Duterte to wipe out criminals from the city.
ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah said on Sunday that Manila’s exit will not stop the investigation from continuing, as the alleged crimes being investigated were committed when the country was a member of the court.