The International Criminal Court has sought authorization from The Hague tribunal to open an investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

According to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, 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.

“Following a thorough preliminary examination process, the available information indicates that members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians during that time,” Bensouda said in a statement.

The ICC prosecutor issued the document on Monday, June 14, a day before leaving the tribunal.

The application for authorization needs approval from ICC’s pre-trial chamber.

Bensouda started scrutinizing extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in February 2018.

Data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s monitoring platform #RealNumbersPH found 6,011 persons killed in anti-drug operations from July 2016 to December 2020.

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

Just recently, he asserted that he was willing to stoop to the level of criminals and mortgage his soul to the devil to fight corruption and illegal drugs.

Admin won’t cooperate

Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque on Tuesday said the administration would not cooperate with the probe.

“I believe that the decision to move forward into a formal investigation stage is legally erroneous – politically motivated. It is legally erroneous because in the first place, the ICC has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of crimes against humanity as alleged in her information against (Duterte),” Roque said in a virtual presser.

“Secondly, the case even for purposes of formal investigation is barred by the principle of complementarity. And thirdly, the investigation is not pursuant or in aid of substantial justice,” he added.

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

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International dubbed the country’s withdrawal as an attempt to evade international justice.

“The Philippines’ withdrawal won’t change the fact that those responsible for crimes under international law committed during the Duterte administration’s bloody anti-drugs campaign will be held to account – at the ICC or through other international justice initiatives,” said Amnesty’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Nicholas Bequelin.

Roque 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.

“I will ask the Philippine National Police: When you discharge your obligations under the so-called drug war, did you target civilians? Did you kill civilians willingly because they were civilians? Obviously, the answer is no,” Roque claimed.

“You did not target civilians as such it was coincidental or collateral damage either because the policeman had the right to defend himself using reasonable force or they were in fact the subject of an attack and therefore justified by the principle of necessity and proportionality,” the former human rights lawyer added.

A deeper investigation on Duterte and the administration’s war on drugs could be conducted if the ICC’s pre-trial chamber approves Bensouda’s request. John Ezekiel J. Hirro