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Marcos refusal to rejoin ICC should have no bearing on investigation — HRW

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Marcos refusal to rejoin ICC should have no bearing on investigation â HRW
The seat of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands is seen in this photo release by the International Commission of Jurists, a non-governmental organization advocating for human rights.
ICJ / Released

MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s comments that the country has "no intention" of rejoining the International Criminal Court should have no bearing on the latter's possible investigation should it continue past the September 9 deadline, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. 

This comes after Marcos made the claim at a press conference Monday, saying he directed top legal executives to look into the ICC situation to figure out how to respond.  

In a phone interview with Philstar.com, Humans Rights Watch Asia Senior Researcher Carlos Conde pointed out that the ICC could still insist on its mandate despite administration allies continuing to parrot its narrative of foreign interference in a justice system that supposedly works. 

"What working court is the Philippine government talking about? That is the point here...I think at this point the Philippine government has unloaded all its ammunition against the ICC and against this case. I don’t think it can do more, kasi wala naman talaga silang maipapakita," he said.  

"It’s another manifestation ng ICC na hindi sila sarado sa Philippine government and they’re willing to give the government every chance it can get to try to defend itself," he also said of the September 9 deadline the global court gave the government to submit its "observations" on its findings. 

READ: Ex-ICC judge: Probers can get evidence on killings even if barred from Philippines

Conde said the international court still has options and resources to gather evidence from abroad in the event that investigators are barred from entering the country once a full-blown investigation is greenlit. 

"If the Philippine government is serious about accountability, it should have cooperated with the ICC a long time ago. But the fact of the matter is that they're not only not willing to do that, but I think they're limited in their capability to do that," he said.

"Now what they’re doing is that, because they know in the eyes of the ICC they've already lost because the facts are very clear, so they're saying, we will not engage."

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra also disclosed Tuesday that the government had already agreed on how to address the yet-unapproved ICC case, though he stopped short of mentioning what this course of action would look like. 

"The government's legal team on the ICC investigation of the Philippine situation has arrived at a general consensus on how to handle the case. However, the agencies involved are studying further, as instructed by PBBM, the mechanics for implementing their agreed course of action," he said.   

He earlier said that "challenging the jurisdiction of the ICC [and the] admissibility of the case, or continuing to leave our lines of communication" open were both on the table for the government.  

After voting to join ICC as senator, Marcos now set on distancing from it 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was among the members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, at the time its vice chair, who signed off on the Philippines' ratification of the Rome Statute in 2011.

The Rome Statute is the international treaty that created the International Criminal Court, at the time the world's first permanent tribunal for war crimes . The Philippines was among the countries that drafted it in 1998.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 withdrew ratification of the Rome Statute as he lashed out after then-chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the start of her preliminary examination into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

"He was one of those who ratified the Rome Statute in 2001. Obviously, a lot of things happened since then, but we find it quite ironic that it has come to this," Conde said in mixed Filipino and English. 

Then-senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who sponsored Senate Resolution No. 546, said in her the Rome Statute was "the most important institutional innovation since the founding of the United Nations."

"If the state is already investigating or prosecuting its own head of state or similar official, the Court will not intervene. But if the state is unwilling or unable to prosecute, then the Court will try the case in The Hague," Santiago said then.

Marcos was among the lawmakers who signed to recommend its approval without amendment. 

READ: ‘Drug war’ victims’ kin still hopeful despite Marcos rejecting Philippines’ return to ICC

Friendly signals to rights violators

It's not just the drug war. Conde says there are broader human rights implications the statement carries from a president who has not publicly mentioned the phrase "human rights" since he stepped into office and has yet to convene his government's human rights commission. 

"He hasn't said anything about the drug war. About the only thing that's working in favor for accountability is the ICC, and now he's saying that has no value at all as far as he's concerned. What does this tell human rights abusers?" Conde said. 

"I think it shows a lack of appreciation for accountability and justice for the victims of the drug war and other human rights violations in the Philippines."

In an earlier interview, the Commission on Human Rights said that it supported Marcos' intent to continue the "drug war," as long as his iteration of it would be one "that is based on the right to health, rather than from the peace and order approach."

"There is more pressure for the next administration and for the Philippine National Police to demonstrate that it is really in support of accountability measures and cleansing programs," CHR executive director Jacqueline de Guia told Philstar.com

"We do hope that lessons were learned in the campaign against drugs [and]  that there will be tangible and concrete steps to be taken by the government to ensure that the human rights situation on the ground will improve."

— with a report from Kristine Joy Patag  

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