OPPOSITION leaders asked new Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday, July 1, 2022, to restore the country's membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC) to strengthen defenses against human rights abuses.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte, whose six-year term ended on Thursday, June 30, 2022, withdrew the country’s ratification of the Rome Statute, the treaty which created the ICC, in 2019 after The Hague-based court launched a preliminary examination into thousands of killings during his campaign against illegal drugs.

Critics said Duterte's move was an attempt to evade accountability. However, the ICC prosecutor said the court still has jurisdiction over crimes alleged while the Philippines was still a member of the court.

“The more we are a member of communities of shared values of human rights, the better,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said, citing the prevalence of rights violations and extrajudicial killings in the country.

Detained former senator Leila de Lima said restoring ICC membership would improve the country’s image and “protect people from crimes against humanity committed by state forces.”

There was no immediate reaction from Marcos Jr.

De Lima, one of the fiercest critics of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, has been detained for five years on drug charges she said were fabricated by Duterte and his supporters to muzzle her and threaten other critics.

Arturo Lascanas, a retired police officer who earlier served under Duterte when he was mayor of southern Davao city, said as many as 10,000 drug suspects may have been killed in the city during Duterte's crackdown on drugs there.

Duterte expanded the crackdown nationwide after becoming president in mid 2016. Officials reported that more than 6,250 suspects were killed during his presidency.

Duterte has denied authorizing extrajudicial killings but has openly threatened drug suspects with death.

Lascanas, who has gone into hiding outside the Philippines, said in a video interview that he is ready to testify in a potential ICC trial and provide evidence that Duterte ordered and funded many killings in Davao. Lascanas said he and other Davao police officers were involved in killings ordered by Duterte.

An ICC investigation of the killings as a possible crime against humanity was suspended in November after Duterte’s administration said it was conducting its own probe of police. But the ICC chief prosecutor recently asked the court to authorize an immediate resumption of the investigation.

The ICC is a court of last resort for crimes that countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute themselves. It was officially created 20 years ago, on July 1, 2022.

Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, a group of human rights lawyers, said it was unlikely Marcos Jr. will agree to restore the country's ICC membership.

The president, who was sworn in Thursday, is the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose rule was marked by massive rights violations and plunder. He was ousted in a 1986 pro-democracy uprising.

He and new Vice President Sara Duterte, the daughter of the former president, have defended their fathers' legacies.

“We think it is a longshot under the present political dispensation,” Olalia said. (AP)