The Philippines was poised to officially quit the International Criminal Court on Sunday, though the beleaguered tribunal has pledged to pursue its examination of possible crimes in the government’s deadly drug war. Manila’s withdrawal is to become final a year after it told the United Nations it was leaving the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal, the second nation to do so. “The secretary general … informed all concerned states that the withdrawal will take effect for the Philippines on 17 March,” UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko said on Friday. The Philippine government and the ICC on Sunday had yet to comment on the withdrawal. The departure of the Philippines follows the court being hit in recent years by high-profile acquittals and moves by several nations to drop out. Manila moved to quit after the body launched a preliminary examination in 2018 into President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug crackdown that has killed thousands. ‘Say hello to my little friend’: is there a Hollywood ending to Duterte’s drug war? However, Duterte’s spokesman said on Sunday the nation never legally joined the treaty that underpins the court, a reference to an argument the Philippines did not complete all the steps to formalise its adoption. “Our position on the matter remains clear, unequivocal and inflexible: the Philippines never became a state party to the Rome Statute which created the ICC,” spokesman Salvador Panelo insisted. “As far as we are concerned, this tribunal is non-existent and its actions a futile exercise.” Duterte’s drug war is his signature policy initiative and he defends it fiercely, especially from critics like Western leaders and institutions which he said do not care about his country. However, court officials have said the preliminary probe launched by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in February 2018 into possible crimes against humanity in the drug war would continue. Under the court’s rules, any matter under consideration before a nation leaves the court is still under its jurisdiction. Duterte has made it clear his government will not cooperate with the ICC in any way. The court “can never acquire jurisdiction over my person, not in a million years”, he said in a speech on Wednesday. The ICC examination focuses on claims the government has been involved in illegal killings as part of the crackdown Duterte launched in mid-2016. Police say they have killed 5,176 users or pushers who resisted arrest, but rights groups claim the number is at least triple that. Burundi in 2017 became the first ever nation to leave the court, which was founded in 2002. In a wave of defections, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya and Gambia have also made moves to quit or expressed interest in withdrawing as they accused the court of being biased against Africans. However, Malaysia officially joined this month, making it one of just a handful of Asian members.