The broader view - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

At last, the Chief Executive has gone on record against efforts to remove his Vice President from office through a constitutional process. Last week, I appealed to President Bongbong Marcos Jr. to publicly express his categorical support for Inday Sara Duterte. It might have taken him several days to speak, but his statement somehow reassured the millions of Duterte and UniTeam followers. It means PBBM finds no compelling reason for the House of Representatives to initiate an impeachment case against the VP. It is his way of telling allies in Congress, led by presidential cousin and Speaker Martin Romualdez, to let the matter drop. Any politician worth their salt will not defy the wishes of the country’s top leader. 

Personally, I would have wanted more elaboration from the President. If I were in his shoes, I would have emphatically stated that the UniTeam is as united as ever. That mutual trust and confidence remains the bedrock of the Marcos-Duterte administration. As partners, they work tirelessly to address every internal and external threat to national stability, security and progress. 

Despite some issue-based differences in opinions, there is absolutely no feud nor acrimony between the Marcoses and the Dutertes. Neither is a brewing ‘them versus us’ faction among the political parties within the alliance. By saying so, the Chief Executive would have disabused duplicitous politicians of any notion that they could succeed in the 2025 mid-term and 2028 presidential elections without the combined support of the Marcos and Duterte forces. 

With the impeachment moves dead in the water, I thought that the anti-Sara instigators and leftist agitpropists in the Lower Chamber would lay low. I was wrong. Seemingly, they have moved to an insidious backup plan that could further erode the public trust in VP Sara, if not oust her from power. It might also be geared towards annihilating the Duterte political brand. I cannot help but think that some leaders and members are out for blood.

In the past weeks, former president Rodrigo Duterte and Inday have crossed swords with the Speaker and his allies over the controversial confidential fund allocation. Moreover, there was a recent ‘snubbing incident’ between Inday and Martin at the Villamor Airbase.

While I admire Inday Sara’s sincerity and honesty, I would advise her to remain civil to her political rivals within and outside the UniTeam alliance. I also understand if Martin got upset by the cold shoulder treatment. He is but human. However, the Speaker should not be surprised by the VP’s reaction. His congressional allies would not have trained their guns on Inday without his blessings. But the incident should not warrant any form of political vendetta that jeopardizes our judicial independence and national sovereignty. A public servant must always prioritize national interest over personal issues.

So, what is their Plan B? Right after PBBM voiced his anti-impeachment stance, the House human rights committee filed Resolution 1477, urging the Philippine government to cooperate with the preliminary investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the war on drugs campaign of FPRRD. It is currently under review by the justice committee. The Speaker has also denied fast-tracking the bill’s passage.

While a resolution is non-binding, it expresses the overall policy opinion of a co-equal branch of government. It might also provide a legal cover for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to reconsider its original position on the issue. In the past, the DOJ has threatened to arrest ICC investigators if they insist on coming to the Philippines without the authorization of our government. 

According to the ICC, the probe focuses on alleged crimes against humanity of murder committed in Philippine territory between Nov. 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019. Take note, Sara was the Davao City mayor from 2010-2013 and 2016-2019. Digong served as the local chief executive from 2013-2016 and our president from 2016-2022. There have been news reports that the complainants have included VP Sara in the case documents filed before the Hague Court. What does this mean? Should the government allow the preliminary investigators to set foot on Philippine soil, there is a possibility that the ICC can issue summons, even warrants of arrest, for Digong and Sara. Provided that the Court finds reasonable grounds against them. 

Under Articles 86 and 87 of the Rome Statute, the Court mandates State Parties to fully cooperate with the criminal investigation and prosecution under its jurisdiction. The request for cooperation shall be transmitted through diplomatic or appropriate channels upon ratification, acceptance, approval or accession of the State Party. In surrendering persons to the ICC, the Court may transmit a request for the arrest and surrender of a person. State Parties must comply with these requests. A person can challenge the request before a national court based on ne bis in idem principle (a person cannot be tried more than once for the same offense). The requested State shall immediately consult with the ICC to determine if there has been a relevant ruling on admissibility (Article 89). 

In 2018, the Philippines deposited the instrument of withdrawal addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General. As stipulated in Article 127 of the Statute, the withdrawal took effect in 2019 or one year after the date of the receipt of the notification. A State’s withdrawal, meanwhile, shall not affect any cooperation with the Court in connection with criminal investigations and proceedings that commenced before the date on which the withdrawal became effective. The ICC states that it retains jurisdiction over alleged crimes that occurred in Philippine territory while it is still a State Party. 

But it was only in 2021 – two years after we officially left the ICC – that the Pre-Trial Chamber authorized its Prosecutor to start its investigation. I maintain that the Court no longer has jurisdiction over the said crimes. Furthermore, we have functioning and competent domestic courts that are able and willing to give justice or provide legal remedies to those victims of alleged extrajudicial killings between 2011 and 2019.     

On more than one occasion, I have heard PBBM say that the country has disengaged with the ICC. Their intrusion or intervention insults our sovereignty as a nation. Our country will not cooperate with the Court in any way or form. Our lawmakers should heed and respect the President’s position.

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