By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES will pursue all legal remedies to block an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the government’s deadly war on drugs, and ensure any suspects are tried by the local courts, the country’s chief lawyer said on Wednesday.

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra on Wednesday said his office was considering the response to ICC Prosecutor Karim Ahmad A. Khan, who rejected the government’s plea to deny his request to reopen the ICC probe.

The state “vigorously pursues its own investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in relation to the government’s so-called war on drugs, all within the framework of our own legal and judicial system,” the Philippine Solicitor General told reporters in a Viber message.

In a 21-page letter to the international tribunal’s pre-trial chamber dated Sept. 22, Mr. Khan said the ICC has jurisdiction to probe the Philippines, contrary to the state’s claim.

“The prosecution respectfully reiterates its request that the chamber order the resumption of the investigation into the situation in the Republic of the Philippines,” he said, citing the ICC charter.

Mr. Guevarra, ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s Justice secretary, earlier told the tribunal the alleged murders of drug suspects in police raids were not crimes against humanity because these were not “attacks against the civilian population.”

The ICC prosecutor disagreed, saying the Philippines had not submitted concrete evidence to disprove the pre-trial chamber’s conclusion that extralegal killings during the drug war were part of a “widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population.”

“The Office of the Solicitor General is presently considering whether there is a need to reply to the prosecutor’s response,” Mr. Guevarra said.

He noted that the ICC had yet to rule on the government’s request to deny the reopening of the court’s drug war probe.

In June, Mr. Khan asked the international tribunal’s pre-trial chamber to reopen the probe since the Philippines had allegedly failed to show it had probed crimes related to the campaign.

The Hague-based tribunal, which tries people charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, suspended its probe of Mr. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs last year upon the Philippine government’s request.

The court was also set to probe vigilante-style killings in Davao City when Mr. Duterte was still its vice mayor and mayor.

The former president canceled Philippine membership in the ICC in 2018. President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has said the Philippines would not rejoin the international court.

Mr. Duterte would try to block the ICC probe of his deadly drug war and would not allow foreign interference, his lawyer said last month.

Also on Wednesday, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla said the government is still looking at cases connected to the drug war.

“We have to treat each case individually and we have to do these in accordance with the evidence gathered,” he said in a Facebook video. “We cannot speculate.”

“Here comes a foreigner who thinks he knows the Philippines more than we do, who thinks it is so easy to run the government from our side of the fence,” he added, referring to the international court’s prosecutor.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has brought five of the 52 cases involving 150 police officers to court since it started its own probe last year.

Mr. Remulla has said he wanted to extend the Witness Protection Program to officers who are willing to testify on extralegal killings under the Duterte administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

Under the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Act, law enforcers are barred from acting as state witnesses.

“If they have nothing to hide, the government should be more than willing to show the records and prove that the arrests, killings, etc. were all done according to the law,” Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He added that the government should focus on investigating its own ranks, especially those who were part of Mr. Duterte’s Cabinet.

Neri J. Colmenares, a former congressman and chairman of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said the ICC probe should continue.

“The arguments submitted by the solicitor general merely rehashed its previous arguments that the Philippines is already investigating and prosecuting police officers,” he said in a statement.

He also called on the president to rejoin the ICC to assure Filipinos that “widespread and systematic attacks against civilians” would not continue under his presidency.

“We do not need to debate the ICC,” Antonio M. La Viña, a human rights lawyer and former dean of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “Clearly, the domestic justice system is not working with respect to these killings.”

The Philippine Human Rights Commission has said the Duterte government had encouraged a culture of impunity by hindering independent inquiries and failing to prosecute erring cops.

Only 21% or 62,000 of 291,000 drug cases filed have led to convictions, Interior Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos said in July, citing police data from 2016 to 2022.

Meanwhile, Senator Ronald M. dela Rosa, Mr. Duterte’s former police chief, said the request to open the probe was an insult to the country’s justice system.

“If they come here to investigate, it is like a slap in the face of our judges and a kick in the head of the DoJ,” he told a press briefing in Filipino, based on a transcript sent to reporters.

Mr. dela Rosa told the ABS-CBN News Channel in July he would rather be tried by local courts.

Data from the Philippine government released in June 2021 showed at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

The United Nations Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said the government’s probe of human rights violations in connection with its deadly drug war lacks transparency.

Also on Wednesday, former Deputy Executive Secretary Richard P. Palpal-latoc has been appointed chairman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the agency said in a statement. He will serve a full seven-year term until 2029.

He used to be an assistant city prosecutor and a lawyer of the Social Welfare department.

Mr. Marcos also appointed this month Beda A. Epres as commissioner. He needs to name three more commissioners to complete the five-member en banc.