While respecting the opinion of his alma mater, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque challenged the assessment of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Executive Committee that made it think he was not fit for a seat in the International Law Commission (ILC).
Roque made the statement after UP officials opposed his nomination to be a part of the ILC for his supposed “very poor track record of promoting, defending, and fulfilling human rights and the rule of law” under the Duterte administration.
“Therefore, his inclusion in the Commission would not serve its purposes but instead diminish the reputation of the body,” the committee said of Roque, who for years have proudly said that he studied and taught law in UP.
In his statement Wednesday morning, Sept. 15, Roque said he respects the right of the Committee and its members to “proffer their opinion on my candidacy”.
However, he said he understands that joining the Duterte administration as spokesperson– first in 2017 and then again in 2020– “will not please everyone”.
He also called it unfortunate that some members of the UP academe would “belittle” and “conveniently ignore and erase” his years of hard work and concrete accomplishments simply because their politics do not align.
“The flimsy justification made to object to my nomination and election to the International Law Commission makes it clear that there are some sectors who will do everything to besmirch my good name, reputation, and integrity simply because I do not subscribe to and share their same political beliefs,” Roque said.
“It is very disheartening to have my nomination to the [ILC] politicized, especially considering that the ILC itself is not a political body,” he added.
The Palace official did not agree with the UP officials’ opinion that he has a “poor track record” when it comes to promoting human rights and the rule of law.
“I wish to challenge this assessment because it is untrue,” he said.
“My curriculum vitae speaks for itself regarding my credentials in the field of public international law,” he added.
According to Roque, he has been an advocate of human rights for over 30 years, having spent most of his professional life as a member of civil society and as a public interest lawyer representing persons and sectors who have needed to be championed.
He added that he has represented journalists–specifically the families of 19 journalist-victims in the Maguindanao massacre–in domestic courts and before international monitoring bodies.
Roque said he was also counsel to the Panatag Shoal fishermen, the comfort women of World War II, and the family of slain Filipino transwoman Jennifer Laude, among others.
“In all these cases, I battled powerful interests in order to ensure that proper remedies were availed of, the rule of law was upheld and justice was served,” he said.
Roque also believes that he has greatly furthered the human rights of Filipinos in recent years due to the passing of laws such as the Universal Health Care Law, the Free Irrigation Service Act for small-scale farmers, a national lunch feeding program for students, and the HIV Policy Law, among others.
“All of these laws which I co-authored and whose passage I passionately lobbied for, grant our countrymen much-needed economic rights whose fruits we are now reaping during this pandemic,” he said.
Despite his sentiments, Roque assured his former colleagues in UP that his commitment to human rights and the rule of law has not wavered.
“Given the opportunity to be a member of the ILC, I have declared that I will be advocating for a treaty for vaccine equality among countries and a treaty recognizing as conclusive laws that identify territories of countries and ensuring maritime jurisdictions in the event of a rise in sea level driven by climate change,” he said.
The ILC is an expert group of people touted to have the credentials and experience in public international law needed to codify customary international law and develop the same.