Rodrigo Duterte is in panic mode. He is desperately building his defense as the International Criminal Court (ICC) has decided to open an inquiry into the human rights situation in the Philippines from 2011 to 2019.

The tribunal has found sufficient evidence to further look into crimes against humanity under Duterte’s administration after a systematic pattern of drug-related killings was established.

The next stage is to find out who was responsible for this pattern of killings. The former top ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensauda, believed there could be 12,000 to 30,000 people who were killed from 2016 to 2019.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) only acknowledged about 6,000 deaths in the war on drugs, all in self-defense, saying the people who died had resisted arrest and chose to shoot it out with undercover police officers.

But human rights advocates have disputed the police narrative because of indications the police anti-illegal drugs operations were staged and the victims were executed.

The police’s “nanlaban” (“they fought back”) version of the incidents were almost identical — only the names, places, and times of the operations were different.

The time of reckoning is coming, and sooner than expected.

Duterte, who will step down from power next year, is starting to feel the heat. He has no control over the ICC. He cannot threaten or bribe tribunal judges. He cannot stop witnesses from testifying. The families of victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) are also determined to seek justice.

Duterte dreads the day he would face trial and conviction at The Hague.

On early morning Wednesday, Duterte mounted his defense ahead of investigation and trial, at the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Last year, Duterte spoke about maritime disputes with China but this year, he chose to defend his anti-crime policy — the war on drugs.

Duterte said he has instructed the justice department and the national police to review the conduct of the brutal campaign against illegal drugs.

He also promised to hold accountable those who “acted beyond in operations.”

A few days ago, his spokesman Harry Roque desperately tried to distance the president from the killings done by the Davao Death Squad (DDS) from November 2011 to June 2016.

Roque claimed he made an investigation into the DDS killings in Davao City and found that Duterte, who was mayor at that time, was not involved.

Duterte and Roque’s efforts to dissociate from the DDS and to institute reforms and corrective measures, however, came too late.

Roque’s attempt to dissociate Duterte from the DDS is laughable. No one will believe him because Duterte as mayor in the city at that time was in full control.

Two of Duterte’s former henchmen — hitman Edgar Matobato and former police officer Arthur Lascanas — had already testified in the Senate some years back.

It will be hard for Roque to dispute Matobato and Lascanas’s testimonies and it would be difficult for him to spin the issue and create an image of Duterte as a saint.

It was actually a very lame excuse, unbelievable and out of reality. Roque wanted the people to believe his fairy tale, which was classic disinformation only the government’s troll farms would buy hook, line, sinker, and would share and like on social media.

Some gullible Filipinos sadly would believe Roque but a big majority would see through the lies.

Duterte’s order to review the “Tokhang” operations came two years late after the Philippines withdrew from the Rome Statute. It means the ICC investigation into the war on drugs will no longer be covered when Duterte made a decision to review the anti-illegal drugs operations.

It is ironic that Duterte and his apologists are laying down their defense in the ICC investigation when publicly the government said it was not recognizing the tribunal.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo also made a lame excuse that the Philippines was never a part of the ICC because the Senate ratification was not published in the Official Gazette.

However, why would the Duterte administration withdraw from the Rome Statute if it does not recognize the ICC? The Supreme Court has also ruled the Philippines was part of the ICC before it withdrew and encouraged the government to cooperate in the investigation.

All this points only to one thing. Duterte is panicking as he faces an ICC investigation and chances are he would be indicted and stand trial and could be convicted and jailed in The Hague.

Duterte is stepping down from office in June 2022 and he needs to keep his political power and influence. The only way to shield him from the ICC is for his chosen presidential candidate to win next year.

His decision to seek the vice presidency could have been triggered by his desire to shield himself from the ICC. Although the vice president has no immunity from lawsuits, he was hoping his popularity would carry his presidential candidate to victory and protect him from cases here and abroad.

His daughter is his best option to shield him because pre-election surveys showed Sara Duterte-Carpio as having higher chances of winning the elections in May 2022.

But if it is true she will seek a third term as Davao City mayor, then Duterte can forget about protection because whoever wins the presidency, as long as he or she is not allied with him, would cooperate with the ICC.

That contributes to Duterte’s dire situation. It is not surprising that he is panicking and going public with all his defenses to the ICC investigation.

But one speech at the UN General Assembly will not save him.