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International criminal court opens probe into Philippine drug killings

MANILA (Agencies): “I welcome you and if you want to find me guilty, so be it. Find a country where they kill people with a firing squad. And I’m ready,” said the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, reacting to the announcement on February 1 that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will conduct a “preliminary examination” into killings in the Philippines linked to the government’s war on drugs.
“If you haul me into a rigmarole of trial and trial, no need. Go ahead and proceed in your investigation. Find me guilty, of course, you can do that. I do not want imprisonment,” he blustered.
Fatou Bensouda, the international court’s chief prosecutor, said the ICC would look into the alleged killings of thousands of suspected drug users and peddlers during police anti-narcotics operations.
Time magazine reported Bensouda as saying, “While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”
Human rights groups have reportedly compiled evidence in the past 19 months of police involvement in the killings.
Presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, expressed confidence that the investigation would not go beyond the preliminary examination into what he called “baseless allegations.” He said the investigation would just be a “waste of the court’s time and resources,” UCAN reported.
“He (Duterte) wants to be in court and put the prosecutor on the stand, to ask who prodded you to proceed to preliminary examination,” Time reported Roque as saying.
UCAN reported that several Philippine bishops welcomed the ICC decision.
Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said “it is time that the (international court) should officially investigate these crimes against humanity.”
Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, said, “I hope the [International Criminal Court] will pursue the case so that people should know nobody can do things with impunity.” 
He added, “All will be held accountable for anything that they do especially those in power. The more power the more accountability.” 
Childrens’ rights group, Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, also welcomed the investigation, saying that the families of children who died are crying out for justice.
“Children’s lives under Duterte is always in danger,” said Eule Rico Bonganay, secretary-general of the group.
Citing data from the non-government Children’s Rehabilitation Centre, Bonganay said 43 children have died in the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.
A preliminary examination by the ICC is not a full-blown on-the-ground investigation, but a first step to determine a possible basis for a formal investigation.
Bensouda  said the court reached its decision following a “careful, independent, and impartial review of a number of communication and reports.”
Jude Sabio, filed a communication before the international court last year accusing Duterte of masterminding the killings of drug suspects.
Philippine justice secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre, expressed confidence that the accusations against Duterte “will not fly.”

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