By Vann Marlo M. Villegas
and Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporters
JUSTICE SECRETARY Menardo I. Guevarra said the communication filed against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court (ICC) “was more of a political statement than a true legal action.”
Mr. Guevarra said he believes the communication filed by former foreign affairs secretary Albert F. Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales was “not with the hope” of winning in the ICC due to issues on jurisdiction and legal standing.
“I believe that the complaint was filed not with the hope of a favorable judgment by the ICC…but probably to impress upon China that if the Philippine government is not willing to vigorously assert its West Philippine Sea (WPS) arbitration victory at this time, there are Filipinos who are unwilling to defer further action to enforce the arbitral ruling,” he told reporters in a text message.
“Private citizens or groups can say or do something to influence public opinion or affect state action pertaining to matters of public interest, but not necessarily aligning themselves with mainstream political aggrupations in the partisan sense,” he also said.
Mr. Del Rosario and Ms. Morales on March 15 sent the communication to the ICC, days before the country’s withdrawal from the court, as they sought a preliminary examination against Mr. Xi and other officials over harassment of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.
In the cover letter of their communication dated March 13, they said Chinese officials “committed crimes within the jurisdiction” of the ICC as they implement a “systematic plan to control (the) South China Sea.”
They noted that despite the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC, the international court still has jurisdiction over crimes in the time the Philippines was a member of the Rome Statute from November 2011 to March 17, 2019.
The justice secretary also said: “The complaint may also have been filed to stress a point: that our withdrawal from the ICC was a mistake, as this is one forum where enforcement action in the WPS may actually be sought.”
He added that he “trust(s) that the President has the greater interest of the country in mind in pursuing his kind of foreign policy, and for that reason we ought to give him all the leeway and flexibility he needs.”
The Philippines effectively withdrew from the ICC on March 17, a year after the Philippines submitted its withdrawal to the United Nations secretary-general following the ICC’s announcement that it will conduct a preliminary examination on the “war on drugs.” Despite that development, the ICC has said the examination continues.
In another development related to the ICC, Malacañang on Monday said the election of late Senator Miriam-Defensor Santiago as the first Filipino judge in the court was “void” from the start, saying the country has never been a member of that body. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said at a news conference at the Palace on Monday that Ms. Santiago “never knew” that the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, was never published in the Official Gazette.
“If the position is we’ve never been a state party [to the ICC], then logically, it is void,” Mr. Panelo said.
“Unless, the International Court says it is not, because it is a legal issue. As far as we are concerned, they never assumed jurisdiction over us. As far as they are concerned, they assumed jurisdiction because there was a treaty,” he added.
Mr. Panelo further said that in spite of the fact that there was a treaty, “the Constitution was not followed, so it’s a legal issue.”
“Obviously, she never knew — knowing her to be a lawyer, she never knew that there was (no) publication on the Official Gazette or a newspaper of general circulation,” he said.“Had she known that, knowing her, I’m sure she would have raised that as an issue.”
Ms. Santiago, who succumbed to cancer in 2016, was elected to the ICC in 2011. She was the first Filipino and first Asian to be elected as judge of The Hague-based organization that investigates and tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community. She stepped down in 2014 after nearly three years in the position, citing health reasons.
Raul C. Pangalangan, a former dean of the University of the Philippines-College of Law, currently serves as a judge of the ICC. He was elected to the ICC in 2015.
Mr. Panelo said, when asked if the Philippines will have to pull Mr. Pangalangan out of his post, “We don’t have to pull out anybody.”
“If the position is we never (were) under the jurisdiction of the court, then it behooves whoever is there to do something for himself,” he added.