Out of the ICC
Countries that withdraw from the International Criminal Court can return, but this isn’t going to happen for the Philippines under the Duterte administration, much to the dismay of human rights advocates. Burundi, The Gambia and South Africa also withdrew from the ICC and remain out. Indonesia withdrew but later changed its mind, so this can be done by the Philippines.
The Duterte administration is not alone in wanting to keep the country out of the ICC. The United States, China, Russia and Israel – countries that leave large footprints in the global arena – have stayed out of the ICC, mainly over national sovereignty concerns. So have Libya and Qatar.
ICC proceedings leading to a formal probe are not stopped by a notice of withdrawal, which takes effect only a year after the notification is submitted. The Philippine government is expected to argue that the ICC cannot proceed with a formal investigation of President Duterte on charges related to his bloody war on prohibited drugs. The argument is that all three branches of government are still functioning and judicial courts and the legislature are still providing checks and balances to abuses of the executive branch, so the ICC cannot step in.
An alternative for the Philippines is to strengthen the institutions that hold public officials accountable for their actions. The system of checks and balances for all three branches of government is enshrined in the Constitution and other laws. But implementing the system is weak and unreliable.
Even if a sitting president escapes impeachment, which is a political process and a numbers game, there are laws that can be applied in various cases of abuse of power once a chief executive steps down from office. Those who carry out unlawful orders can also be brought to justice under existing laws. The challenge is to gather sufficient evidence that can stand in court, and to ensure that justice will be rendered fairly and with reasonable speed. These are the areas where the country is weak, but such flaws are not beyond repair.
The strength of several of the states that have ratified the Rome Statute is that their institutions are strong enough to allow them, on their own, to prevent their people from committing offenses covered by the ICC, and to punish anyone who breaks the law and abuses power. This must be the ultimate goal of the Philippines. The laws are there; what’s lacking is enforcement.