Philippines won’t rejoin ICC; critics hit decision

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the country was already investigating the alleged crimes of the previous administration.

Jerome Aning, Julie M. Aurelio, Krixia Subingsubing, Marlon Ramos

Jerome Aning, Julie M. Aurelio, Krixia Subingsubing, Marlon Ramos

Philippine Daily Inquirer


President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (Photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

August 2, 2022

MANILA — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday said the Philippines would not rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC), noting that the government was already investigating alleged crimes in the previous administration’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.

“No, the Philippines has no intention of rejoining the ICC,” the president said in a brief interview with reporters on the sidelines of his visit to the Pasig City Sports Complex vaccination site.

“We’re saying that there is already an investigation going on here and it’s continuing, so why would there be one like that [in the ICC]?” he pointed out.

He said the government was already crafting the proper response to the tribunal’s invitation to submit “observations” as The Hague-based court seeks to resume its investigation of alleged abuses during the Duterte administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs.

In an order dated July 14, the ICC said the country has until Sept. 8, 2022, to provide any observations on the ICC prosecutor’s request to reopen its probe.

Marcos confirmed the meeting he had on July 27 with Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile and private lawyer Harry Roque to begin discussing the administration’s strategy in dealing with the ICC.

The president said Roque was consulted because “he is involved and recognized by the ICC.” An expert in public international law and human rights, Roque is among the lawyers — the only Filipino — accredited to practice before the ICC.

“So anyway, [the meeting was held] so we will know what we will do, if we will respond, if we will not respond. And if we will respond, what will our response be. Or it’s also possible that we will ignore them because we are not under them anymore,” he said.

The president said the ICC was “a very different kind of a court” so the government’s legal team would “study” the correct response to the ICC probe resumption.

“I told them to study well the procedure so that we’ll be able to do the correct thing. Because we do not want, of course, that they might misinterpret our actions. That’s why we should be clear about what we have to do, who will write who, what will be in the letter (among others),” he said.

Last January, then-presidential aspirant Marcos said he would not allow ICC prosecutors to come and investigate accusations of crimes against humanity.

“We have a functioning judiciary, and that’s why I don’t see the need for a foreigner to come and do the job for us. Our judicial system is perfectly capable of doing that,” he said then.

Regrettable decision
The Philippines, a state party to the Rome Statute since Nov. 1, 2011, formally notified the body of its withdrawal from the statute on March 17, 2018. The withdrawal took effect only a year after, or on March 17, 2019. However, the ICC retained jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes that occurred in the Philippines while it was a State Party, or from Nov. 1, 2011, to March 16, 2019.

In March 2018, then-President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the withdrawal of the country’s ratification of the Rome Statute, the treaty which created the ICC, just weeks after former ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced a preliminary examination was underway into the deaths of thousands due to his administration’s illegal drugs crackdown.

Opposition leaders earlier asked Marcos to rejoin the ICC to boost safeguards against human rights abuses.

On Monday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Marcos’ decision for the Philippines to stay out of the ICC was “regrettable,” insisting that those being investigated by the international body should not be afraid if they “have nothing to hide.”

“It is the prerogative of the President, though it is regrettable as the Rome Statute is the collective commitment of the community of nations against state-sponsored impunity,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“I hope he will not undermine or block [the] investigation of acts or violations that took place before the Philippines withdrew from the ICC,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said he did not agree with Marcos’ move, but he acknowledged that the chief executive was the “decision-maker on if and/or when to join an international organization or treaty.”

Probe resumption
Lawyers representing the drug war victims said they remained undaunted by the president’s decision not to rejoin the ICC, expressing confidence that the probe would still continue.

Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said Marcos’ decision “would not fatally affect the resumption of the investigation even as it would not be a walk in the park.”

“The ICC has the means, experience, resources and creativity to deal with situations such as noncooperation by states,” Olalia said.

Experts in international law and even the ICC itself believed that withdrawal from the statute would not affect ongoing proceedings, including the current investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity committed during Duterte’s six-year war on drugs.

This follows Article 127 of the Rome Statute, which states that criminal investigations and proceedings that started before withdrawals took effect will continue.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, recently asked the court to reopen a probe into the drug war, which was deferred last year upon the request of the Philippine government, after finding that the country did not conduct any genuine investigation into the crimes being investigated by the high tribunal.

Lawyer Kristina Conti, co-counsel for the victims, called Marcos’ decision “a terrible mistake, and could prove to be a costly miscalculation not to rejoin the ICC.”

“Should [the president] choose not to cooperate with the international court’s investigation supported and called for by many Filipinos, he will contend with a political storm with international impact,” she added.

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