By DR. FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID
The recent withdrawal of the Philippines from the International Criminal Court (ICC) took effect last Sunday, March 17, a year after we submitted our intent to leave the tribunal. This and other unilateral actions by President Duterte clearly show a pattern in our international relations. That while many countries of the world are moving towards multilateralism, our country is taking the opposite direction.
Consider the President’s action a few days ago when he terminated the appointment of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello and four other members of the government’s peace negotiating panel with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front. He says he will continue the negotiations but it will be “localized.” Again, he demonstrated unilateralism when he set aside the 2016 Hague tribunal ruling declaring our right to the West Philippine Sea. And, at the local level, he violated due process and the rule of law when he released the narco-list of local politicians.
The withdrawal from the ICC was triggered by the two complaints filed against the President before the ICC, the first one in April, 2017, by Edgar Matobato who claimed that he was part of a hit squad operated by Duterte. The second complaint was filed August, 2018, by activists and four victims in the war against drugs.
Despite our withdrawal, many believe that it will not affect our criminal justice system. But it will affect our reputation in the international community. That it will give others the impression that we are not able to fulfill our commitments to international treaty obligations, The ICC will continue to examine and assess the information to determine whether these complaints fall within the jurisdiction of the court.
In fact, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and hercolleagues are at present in the country to probe Duterte’s involvement in the drug crackdown but are facing threats of being arrested or barred from the country.
The ICC today has 124 members and only the Philippines and Burundi have withdrawn from the tribunal which is governed by the Rome Statute, an international treaty that established it. The United States and South Africa had filed an intent to leave but eventually decided to stay after the Supreme Court voided the withdrawal. China, India, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar are not members. Based in the Hague, Netherlands, ICC can prosecute cases committed in member countries and by citizens of the latter. In 2012, the court sentenced former Liberian president Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison for his role in war crimes committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s.
The Assembly of State Parties of the ICC hopes that the Philippines’ withdrawal would be temporary and that therefore it will be able to rejoin the court. The Philippine Coalition for the ICC has asked the Supreme Court to declare President Duterte’s unilateral withdrawal void ab initio or from the start – that it cannot withdraw from the ICC itself without the permission of the Senate, a position supported by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
Many would be interested to know that while Malacanang was eagerly anticipating final word about our freedom from the Rome statute, two former top government officials had filed a criminal case against China before the ICC. Last March 15, two days before the effect of our withdrawal from the ICC, former foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, together with some fishermen, accused China of crimes against humanity in the West Philippine Sea.