MANILA -- The International Criminal Court has launched a "preliminary examination" over Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, his spokesperson said on Thursday.
Manila's mission in The Hague was informed by the ICC that its Office of the Prosecutor is opening an initial probe on crimes against humanity, allegedly committed by Duterte, Harry Roque said.
Roque, an international law expert, said he discussed the development with Duterte on Wednesday night. "The President has said that he also welcomes this preliminary examination because he is sick and tired of being accused by the commission of crimes against humanity," Roque said.
Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio filed a complaint before the ICC in April last year, accusing Duterte of being a mass murderer and committing extrajudicial killings since 1988. Other local officials were also included in the complaint.
Duterte won the May 2016 elections largely on his promise to eradicate crime and corruption. Upon assuming office, he launched a brutal anti-narcotics crackdown similar to the one he carried out in Davao City, which he ruled for over 20 years prior to becoming president.
Around 4,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed by police and thousands more by unknown vigilantes since Duterte assumed office.
Roque said the ICC's move is a "waste of the court's time and resources."
"The war against drug is a lawful, legitimate police operation. It cannot be characterized as an attack against civilian populations [just] because they are civilians," he said.
"It is a lawful use of force and, therefore, we submit likewise that on the merits, the element of directing and attack against a civilian population is simply lacking."