Roque on withdrawal from ICC: It saddens me, but I agree with Duterte

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 15) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who lobbied for the Philippines' membership into the International Criminal Court in 2011, backs the President's decision to withdraw from the international tribunal.

"Yes, it saddens me, because our membership to the ICC perhaps is my single most important achievement as a member of civil society, but I agree with the President. Hindi naman po pupwede na isantabi ang soberanya (We cannot set aside our sovereignty)," Roque said in a press briefing on Thursday.

Roque, who was also a human rights lawyer, however said he does not regret supporting the membership in ICC.

"I believe there must be end to impunity but when I lobbied for Philippine membership into the ICC, it was because I knew it cannot be a substitute for domestic courts. Importante nga lang po na magkaroon tayo ng alternatibo kung hindi na gumagana ang mga lokal na hukuman," Roque said.

[Translation: It is important that we have an alternative if our domestic courts are not working anymore.]

The Presidential Spokesperson said the ICC violated the "principle of complementarity," which is the reason why the Philippines agreed to become a party in the Rome Statute which governs the international tribunal.

"Ang ICC po, hindi po yan ang court of first instance. Yan po ay binuo ng mga kasapi ng ICC, kasama na ang Pilipinas, para maging court of last resort. Gagalaw lang po dapat ang ICC kapag ang mga lokal na hukuman ay hindi gumagana," Roque said.

[Translation: The ICC is not a court of first instance. This was formed by members of the ICC, including the Philippines, to become a court of last resort. The ICC should only make a move when the domestic courts are not working.]

The ICC said in February it will conduct a preliminary examination on the administration's war on drugs. The ICC clarified it is not an investigation, but a process of determining whether there is sufficient basis to proceed with an investigation.

Roque then said the President welcomes the preliminary examination "because he is sick and tired of being accused of the commission of crimes against humanity."

READ: Int'l Criminal Court to begin preliminary examination on PH killings

However, Roque said recent criticisms from the United Nations changed the President's mind.

"As far as the President is concerned, there is like concerted effort on the part of lobby groups to influence UN officials to indict and convict the President in the court of public opinion," Roque said.

Recently, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the President should see a psychiatrist after the government asked a Manila court to declare more than 600 people as terrorists, including a UN special rapporteur.

"With that statement, the President is convinced that there must be some kind of conspiracy on the part of pressure groups and UN officials to shame him," Roque added.

Although the Hague-based international court is independent of the ICC, the Palace spokesperson said there is a perception the ICC is allied with the UN.

"In fact, the withdrawal mechanism is deposited in the UN Secretary General. Although the reason why it's not part of the UN of course, is not all member-states of the UN agreed to become part of the ICC," he said.

Roque said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has already received instruction from the President to notify the UN Secretary General of the Philippines' intention to withdraw.

According to Article 127 of the Rome Statute, "a state may, by written notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, withdraw from this Statute. The withdrawal shall take effect one year after the date of receipt of the notification, unless the notification specifies a later date."

Roque said the case against the President may continue if the preliminary examination will lead into a preliminary investigation within a year.