Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte will not cooperate with an investigation into the country's war on drugs planned by the International Criminal Court (ICC), his spokesman said on Tuesday while defending the administration's record on human rights.
Rights groups and critics of the drug killings have welcomed the step by the ICC, saying a full-scale investigation will bring justice closer for the families of thousands of people killed.
Despite concerns from the international community about the crackdown on drugs, Mr Duterte remains popular at home and many Filipinos back his tough stance on crime.
"We will not cooperate because we are no longer a member," the president's spokesman Harry Roque told a news conference.
Mr Duterte cancelled the Philippines’ membership of the ICC’s founding treaty in March 2018, although, under its statute, the ICC has jurisdiction for crimes committed while a country was a member until a year after it sought to withdraw.
"We do not need foreigners to investigate killings in the drug war because the legal system is working in the Philippines, " Mr Roque said, adding he believed launching a formal probe was "legally erroneous and politically motivated".
An ICC prosecutor sought authorisation on Monday to open a full investigation into the killings, saying crimes against humanity could have been committed.
"There is a reasonable basis to believe that the alleged conduct was committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy," ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a report.
The investigation will cover the period of July 2016 to March 2019 when at least 20,000 killings were committed in connection with the anti-narcotics campaign.
Since Mr Duterte took office in 2016 until the end of April this year, police have killed more than 6,100 suspected drug dealers in sting operations, government data show.
"The long arm of the law will soon catch up with Duterte and his accomplices," former opposition senator Antonio Trillanes said in a statement.
The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines said in a statement: “The perpetrators and architects of these crimes must be held to account.”
The foreign ministry in Manila said the Philippines adhered to norms on human rights and had a "long track record of constructive engagement with international and regional partners".
Roque said police used appropriate force and there was “no intention to target and kill civilians”.
A government anti-drugs agency said in a statement that cases filed against erring officers were being dealt with and denied there were “policies that permit, tolerate, and condone killings and other human rights violations”.
Mr Duterte ends his single six-year term in June next year, and analysts say he would want an ally to win the presidency to protect him from potential legal challenges and political vendettas once he loses immunity out of office. – Reuters