(UPDATED) - The Hague-based International Criminal Court has acted on the complaint filed against President Rodrigo Duterte and set a preliminary examination into the alleged human rights abuses committed under the Philippine war on drugs, Malacañang said Thursday, February 8.

“Our mission in the Hague was informed by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it is opening a preliminary examination on the alleged acts associated with the campaign against illegal drugs covering the period of July 2016,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr.

He said this is merely meant to "embarrass" the President. Roque said a preliminary examination "is not a formal preliminary investigation," but aims only to determine if there is reasonable basis to proceed to a preliminary investigation.

"Obviously, this is intended to embarass the President. But the President is a lawyer. He knows what the procedures are. They will fail. The President has said that if need be, he will argue his case personally before the International Criminal Court," Roque said.

Duterte is facing a criminal complaint before the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands for allegedly commiting crimes against humanity and mass murder, in connection with his bloody crackdown on the illegal drugs trade.

Roque said the President welcomed the impending preliminary examination because the latter is "sick and tired" of being accused of committing human rights abuses.

"He (Duterte) also welcomes the preliminary examination because he's sick and tired of being accused of committing crimes against humanity," he said.

"No one should claim a victory because they're only in the stage of preliminary examination," Roque added.

Asked if the prosecutor of ICC can impose sanctions against the Philippine government, he said: "In our case, they will not go beyond preliminary examination."

Duterte's bloody war against illegal drugs has claimed the lives of over 3,000, based on police records, since July 2016.

Human rights advocates and Duterte's political foes have expressed strong opposition to his drug war.

The President, however, has maintained his stance that the campaign against narcotics will be relentless until he is able to curb the narcotics trade.

Roque said they believed that Duterte's political rivals were behind the impending investigation.

"It is the suspicion of the President (that) it is, of course, the enemies of the state who are behind this," the presidential spokesman said.

Roque insisted that Duterte's drug war is a "lawful" and "legitimate" operation against drug personalities.

"As a sovereign state, the President has inherent responsibility to protect its current and future generations by effectively addressing threats (to) the safety and well-being of the citizens, such as the proliferation of illegal drugs. Because the war against drugs is a lawful, legitimate police operation, it cannot be characterized as an attack against civilian populations because they are civilians," he said.

Jude Josue Sabio, legal counsel of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, submitted to the ICC in April 2017 a 77-page communication that detailed the alleged involvement of Duterte in extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and other crime suspects.

The complaint, which was submitted to Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the ICC, also named 11 other officials aside from the President.

Less than two months later, opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo Party-list Representative Gary Alejano filed an additional communication before the ICC to supplement Sabio's complaint. (Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines)