By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

President Rodrigo Duterte will likely die first before participating in the probe being conducted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on drug war deaths, Malacañang said on Thursday.

Reiterating what has been said multiple times by the president, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said: “mamamatay muna bago siya haharap sa mga dayuhang mga huwes.”

Roque made the statement after the ICC greenlit a probe as there was “reasonable basis” to believe that a crime against humanity had been committed in the Philippines between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019 in the context of Duterte’s deadly campaign against drugs.

Roque also maintained that the ICC did not have jurisdiction over the Philippines.

“Kung mayroong reklamo, dapat dito isampa sa Pilipinas, dahil ang ating mga hukuman ay gumagana. At ang korte ng ICC ay walang hurisdiksiyon, puwede lang siyang mag-akto sa mga kaso kung ang mga hukuman natin ay hindi gumagana o ‘di naman kaya ay iyong tinatawag na unwilling na magkaroon ng hurisdiksiyon sa mga kaso na pinapatawan ng parusa,” he told reporters in a Palace briefing.

The Philippines pulled out from the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, in March 2019.

Since his stint as Davao mayor, Duterte has been vocal about killing criminals for the sake of cleansing his jurisdiction of illegal drugs.

Roque previously said that crimes against humanity are defined under the statute of the ICC law as a widespread and systematic attack against civilians, perpetrated with the intent to harm civilians.

Defending the administration’s purge of drugs that has caused the deaths of at least 6,000 Filipinos, Roque said drug-busting cops in the country did not “kill civilians willingly because they were civilians.”

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo also claimed the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute disqualified the ICC from “interfering” in the country’s affairs.

“The timing of this development reveals that the ICC is bent on proceeding with a case against our government officials in violation of our Constitution and in contravention with the Rome Statute that created it,” he said in a statement.

“While we expect that more theatrics will be employed by the detractors of the President as election season draws near, this blatant and brazen interference and assault on our sovereignty as an independent country by the ICC is condemnable,” he added.

Carlos Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch and a former New York Times correspondent, said the ICC action was a “much-needed check on President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly war on drugs.”

“Victims’ families and survivors have reason to hope that those responsible for crimes against humanity could finally face justice,” he added.