By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE MARCOS government’s refusal to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation of the Philippines’ deadly war on drugs undermines the so-called rule-based international order that the country had advocated in its sea dispute with China, according to political analysts.

“Beyond the issue of the ICC, it also raises questions regarding the selectivity with which the Philippines is willing to uphold international law as a principle,” Joseph Herman S. Kraft, former chairman of the University of the Philippines’ (UP) Political Science department, said in a Viber message. 

“This affects the significance of its own support for a rule-based international order,” he said. “It diminishes the impact of any of its statements that makes reference to the need to respect international law.”

The ICC investigation covers so-called crimes against humanity committed in Davao City from November 2011 to June 2016 when former President Rodrigo R. Duterte was still its mayor.

The court is also investigating extralegal killings during his presidency up until March 16, 2019, a day before the Philippines withdrew from the ICC.

At the US-led Summit for Democracy last week, the Philippine government reiterated that it does not recognize the ICC’s authority to investigate the drug war.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, in a statement on Thursday, said the country “disassociates” from the part of the summit’s declaration that acknowledged the “important role played by the ICC as a permanent and impartial tribunal complementary to national jurisdictions in advancing accountability for the most serious crimes under international law.”

“The international consequence of that decision, including the perception that, that is a hypocritical position, is something that the Marcos administration has to live with,” Mr. Kraft said.

The Philippines under Mr. Marcos has been calling for a rule-based order as it deals with China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

During a United Nations general assembly in September, he called for respect for international law.

He said an inclusive and rule-based international order that is “informed by the principles of equity and of justice” remains an important stabilizer amid global tides.

The US, which has been advocating human rights and a rule-based order, might remain silent on the Philippine government’s disengagement from the ICC since it’s more focused on boosting presence in the Philippines and other Indo-Pacific countries to counter China’s influence, said Hansley A. Juliano, a political economy researcher studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan.

“It depends on the Biden administration’s approach, especially since they are in the leadup to their own midterms next year and they are also awash with their own domestic human rights issues,” he said via Facebook Messenger chat.

Mr. Juliano noted that since US President Joseph R. Biden took office in 2021, Washington had not criticized the Philippines under Mr. Duterte and Mr. Marcos “because they’re wooing our security sector back.”

US silence on the Philippines’ ICC disengagement “feeds into the narrative of US hypocrisy and ‘human rights discourse’ being branded as ‘whatever serves US strategic interests.’”

“It is what Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Duterte have been harping on for decades,” Mr. Juliano said. “And it is a legacy of the Cold War absolutisms of the 1970s-1980s. Many people want to move away from that. But you cannot do that if US policy does not match rhetoric.”

Mr. Marcos last month said his government would “disengage” itself from the ICC after it rejected its plea to suspend the probe of Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

“We don’t have a next move, that is the extent of our involvement with the ICC,” he told a news briefing. “That ends all our involvement with the ICC.”

Mr. Duterte canceled Philippine membership in the ICC in 2018. Mr. Marcos has said the Philippines would not rejoin the international tribunal, noting that the probe is a threat to Philippine sovereignty.

The “conditional and selective” endorsement of the declaration by the so-called Summit for Democracy “further weakens the Philippines’ standing in the UN,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the UP, said via Viber, adding that it might also weaken the country’s relations with traditional allies including the European Union (EU).

“This can affect future support, grants, loans and preferential trade agreements with the US, EU and other partners,” she said.

The EU and other economic partners of the Philippines give grants to support Philippine civil society groups’ pro-democracy efforts and “strengthen the independence of the Judiciary and other elements of the justice system.” 

“They can also decide to withdraw economic support and funds for the Executive branch of the Philippines,” she said. “US and EU lawmakers can decide to cut economic and security aid to the Philippines if the latter’s human rights and rule of law record further deteriorates.”

Last month, US Rep. Susan Wild of the seventh district of Pennsylvania refiled before the US House of Representatives the proposed Philippine Human Rights Act, which seeks to “condition all US security assistance to the Philippines based on respect for human rights standards.”

The bill was refiled “in response to the lack of justice and accountability” for the March 7, 2021 raids in the Calabarzon region that killed nine activists. Ms. Wild in a March 7 statement also cited “countless more human rights violations against labor organizers, dissidents, journalists, political opposition leaders, clergy members and others.”

The bill has angered Senator Ronald M. dela Rosa, who threatened to push the termination of the Philippines’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement  (EDCA) with the US. Mr. Marcos in February announced the EDCA expansion by giving the US access to four more military bases.

Mr. Juliano said the European Union is in a good position to pressure the Philippines to cooperate with the ICC.

“They do nominally have some moral capital on this especially since its own geopolitical stances can be argued to be consistent with this,” he said, adding that the EU has funded efforts by civic groups to improve the country’s human rights situation.

“But it does kind of pose additional questions about what additional pressures they can use,” he said. “Economic pressure has long been touted, but that is easier said than done.”

The European Parliament in February last year passed a resolution asking the Philippines to act on human rights abuses or face losing trade perks under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus or GSP+.

The arrangement, which will expire by yearend, allows the duty-free entry of 6,274 Philippine products to Europe. These account for two-thirds of all European Union (EU) tariff lines.

GSP+ requires the Philippines to uphold commitments to 27 international conventions on human rights, labor, good governance and the environment.