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    International relations

    Philippines counts down to Sunday's ICC departure

    Withdrawal from forum risks country's reputation, critics say

    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte holds a Galil sniper rifle during a National Police chief handover ceremony in Manila.   ? Reuters

    MANILA -- The Philippines is on track to officially withdraw from the International Criminal Court, which is examining alleged crimes committed during President Rodrigo Dutere's drug war, as attempts by the opposition to block the move appear to be failing.

    The withdrawal is set to take effect on Sunday, a year after the Duterte administration informed The Hague-based ICC of its intention to pull out of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the court. The Philippines is the second country to leave the ICC, after Burundi in 2017. Gambia and South Africa stepped out of the fold in 2016 but joined again the following year.

    Manila's move, which comes with the country's human rights profile increasingly under the global spotlight, could hurt the Philippines' international image, a human rights lawyer said.

    ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in February 2018 opened a "preliminary examination" to "analyze crimes allegedly committed" by the government in the drug war. The case was filed in 2017 by Jude Sabio, the lawyer of a self-confessed assassin who claims to have been part of a Duterte death squad in Davao, where the president began his brutal anti-drug campaign while mayor. The complaint cites Duterte and other government officials.

    Since Duterte took office in mid-2016, over 5,000 drug suspects have been killed according to government figures. Human rights activists and third-party monitors say the death toll could be four times higher.

    Duterte says the court is biased. "Given that the ICC shows a propensity for failing to give due respect to the State Parties of the Rome Statute," he said last year, "and that there is clear bias on the part of the U.N. against the Philippines, the Philippines may very well consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute."

    Opposition senators have attempted to block the move, arguing before the Philippine Supreme Court that a withdrawal requires the approval of a majority of senators, similar to when the country enters into a treaty. But the Supreme Court is unlikely to decide on the case this week, allowing the withdrawal to proceed, local media have reported, citing court sources.

    Activists wear hoods depicting families of victims killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.   © Reuters

    Jose Manuel Diokno, a human rights lawyer who is running for the senate in the May midterms, said the withdrawal will have serious domestic and international repercussions.

    "This will also damage our credibility and standing in the international community," Diokno said. "This, in turn, could seriously hurt our country's trade relations and will likely affect foreign aid. But beyond these, I think this withdrawal will cause even greater and more lasting damage on our country by perpetuating a culture of impunity, with abuses left unchecked."

    A researcher at Manila's Foreign Service Institute in 2017 said it was best to remain a member of the ICC, which elected Filipino lawyer Raul Pangalangan as a judge in 2015.

    "It is in the best interest of the Philippines to remain a state party of the ICC and support calls for the reform of the Court, which include a fair investigation of all countries involved in severe conflicts," Mark Edel Diaz wrote in the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies Commentaries. "This way, the Philippines can develop its relations with [other] countries ... and at the same time, establish a good international posture in the fight for justice."

    Established in 1998, the ICC is tasked with prosecuting people accused of war crimes, genocide and other high crimes when domestic courts are unwilling or unable to investigate allegations or prosecute suspects. The Philippines acceded to the ICC in 2011, becoming the 117th country to join the court.

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