Cooperating with ICC is a correct and just step

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Yesterday’s Philippine STAR front-page headline says: “Remulla to ask Palace if Phl is rejoining ICC.”

“I will clarify if we have an intention to be members again of the ICC because of the House resolutions…” the justice secretary said at a press briefing. He had earlier expressed a need to review the government’s refusal to deal with the International Criminal Court. 

He was referring to three resolutions filed in the House of Representatives commonly urging the government to cooperate with the ICC in the latter’s investigation of the “war on drugs” that former president Rodrigo Duterte had pursued since he was mayor of Davao City and throughout his presidential term (2016-2022).

It was on Aug. 30, 2011 that the Philippines ratified the Rome Statute that created the ICC, which is mandated to investigate and litigate high crimes that member-states cannot satisfactorily undertake. But in March 2018, Duterte withdrew the country’s ICC membership (which took effect a year later). He arbitrarily did so to prevent an impending investigation by then ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of possible crimes against humanity committed in the “war on drugs.”

But woe for Duterte: Under the ICC rules, an investigation can validly proceed if this had already started before the withdrawal from membership took effect. Our own Supreme Court, in 2021, ruled that, indeed the ICC had jurisdiction over the “verified complaint” filed, on April 24, 2017, against him before the ICC by the families of some victims of drug-war killings.

Last July, the ICC gave the go-signal for Prosecutor Karim Khan to undertake a thorough investigation on the killings, mostly by state forces, of the officially recorded 6,000 or several thousands more cases of citizens, mostly poor, suspected of using or trading in illegal drugs.

However, President Marcos Jr. took a hardline stance. He said:

“Any probe conducted by the ICC would be an intrusion into our internal matters [affairs], and a threat to our sovereignty… We are done talking with the ICC. […As] we have been saying from the beginning, we will not cooperate with them in any way, shape or form.”

Last Wednesday, the House committees on justice and on human rights jointly began deliberations on two resolutions urging the government to cooperate with the ICC, filed separately last month and this week, while awaiting the referral to them of a third similar resolution filed last Tuesday.

The first House resolution (HR No. 1393) was filed by the three-member progressive Makabayan bloc last month. In her sponsorship speech, Act Teachers Rep. France Castro, deputy minority leader, cited Duterte’s admission on television that he had used intelligence funds to bankroll extrajudicial killings when he was Davao City mayor.

House human rights committee chairperson Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr., together with Rep. Ramon Rodrigo Gutierrez, followed with a similar resolution (HR No. 1477). The measure explicitly calls on government agencies to “extend their full cooperation” to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan in his investigation. Promptly, the House plenary referred both resolutions to the justice and human rights committees for action.

In an interview on television, Abante explained why he filed a resolution that ended up referred to the human rights and justice committees. He said:

“I still trust the criminal justice system, so by cooperating with the ICC, we strengthen our commitment to transparency and accountability.” As House human rights committee chairperson, he added, “I have done my part in asking the Philippine government to extend their full cooperation to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC.”

On Tuesday, veteran legislator Rep. Edcel Lagman, who asserts his independent stance in the House, filed the third resolution (HR No. 1482). It was expected to be similarly referred to the joint justice and human rights committees, which procedurally would consolidate the three measures into one resolution.

Investigation by the ICC, the Lagman resolution states, “would be an effective transition-justice mechanism to exact accountability from those responsible for the massive human rights violations and provide the victims the necessary remedies and reparation, as well as guarantees of non-repetition [of the crimes].” 

While noting that the small minority opposition had been consistent in pressing the government to cooperate with the international court, Lagman welcomed members of the majority coming around to the same position.

“I think some in the majority changed their views, that we should follow the rule of law and world order, and we should fully cooperate with the ICC prosecutor’s investigation,” he told reporters. “We shouldn’t be a renegade in the international order.”

“What are we waiting for?” he asked, expressing hope that Marcos Jr. would consider the sentiments among the members of Congress. Similarly, he indicated optimism that government agencies could realize that “it is correct for the Philippines to cooperate with the ICC investigation.” 

On this unusual development in the House, Human Rights Watch Asia director Bryony Lau approvingly remarked that the lawmakers “are taking a firm and principled stand for accountability.”

Along with the Philippine Coalition for the ICC (PCICC) and human rights alliance Karapatan, Human Rights Watch appealed to more legislators to support the resolutions.

“The Marcos government should do right by the victims of the drug war and the Davao Death Squad,” Lau said, “and assist the ICC investigation into alleged crimes against humanity.”

PCICC chair Aurora Parong commented, “A change of hearts for justice by our legislators and the executive branch of government is a step in the right direction, and may very well serve as a deterrent to future crimes.”

“It is the Philippine government’s obligation to ensure remedies and to fulfill the rights of the victims,” she added, expressing hope that the Senate would initiate a similar resolution. 

Also in agreement was Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, who commented that the developments in the House “provide a glimpse of hope to the victims of the drug war and their families in the quest for justice and accountability.”

Would Marcos Jr. think so too?

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