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Abante to Imee Marcos: Isn’t it ‘more hypocritical’ to block ICC entry?

The government asks China to honor the arbitral tribunal’s ruling on the West Philippine Sea, but refuses to follow the Supreme Court’s 15-0 decision on the ICC.

Nov 27, 2023

Tita C. Valderama

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5-minute read

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Sen. Imee Marcos said in a chance interview with reporters on Nov. 22 that Filipinos should be ashamed to allow the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC) to enter the country and investigate drug-related killings under the previous administration.

Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante retorted in a separate interview the next day: “Mas nakakahiya kung pipigilan po natin ang ICC to come over here. They should know what’s happening.”

Abante chairs the House Committee on Human Rights and has authored House Resolution 1477, which calls on government agencies to cooperate with the ICC prosecutor handling the probe.

He said allowing the ICC to come in would “put a stop to these accusations” on the perceived involvement of former president Rodrigo Duterte and other officials in his administration in the bloody war against illegal drugs when the Philippines was still a member of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, from November 2011 to March 2019.

Echoing the current administration’s position, Marcos said the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court’s grant of bail to former senator Leila De Lima on Nov. 13 has proven that the country’s justice system is working, free and strong. Therefore, the ICC need not come in to investigate alleged crimes against humanity here.

Mahiya naman tayo bilang Filipino. Ipapasa pa raw ‘yung ICC resolution na pakialaman tayo ng mga dayuhan samantalang mga korte natin napapatunayan naman na umaandar, malaya at at matibay. Bakit papapasukin pa ‘yung iba?

(We should be ashamed as Filipinos. They might pass a resolution on the ICC that will allow foreigners to interfere when we have already proven that our courts are working, free and strong. Why do we need to allow them to enter?),” the senator pointed out.

But Abante said that while the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been asking China to abide by the arbitral court’s ruling on the West Philippine Sea (WPS), it has been refusing to follow the Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling that the Philippines is still obliged to cooperate in the criminal proceedings of the ICC even after it has already withdrawn from the tribunal.

“We follow the UNCLOS as far as the problem with the WPS is concerned at naniniwala tayo sa arbitral ruling ng UN concerning this, and we’re actually asking China to abide by the arbitral ruling. But then, we’re against the ICC coming over here. That would be, perhaps, more hypocritical. Am I right?” Abante, a member of the majority bloc in the House, told anchor Pinky Webb in an interview on CNN Philippines.

In a 15-0 decision in March 2021, the Supreme Court said: “Even if it has deposited the instrument of withdrawal, it shall not be discharged from any criminal proceedings. Whatever process was already initiated before the [ICC] obliges the state party to cooperate.”

In that same decision, the high court junked petitions questioning the validity of Duterte’s decision to withdraw the Philippines from the ICC, saying the issue had become moot and academic.

The Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC took effect in March 2019, a year after Duterte questioned the ICC’s authority to investigate the campaign against illegal drugs in which at least 6,000 people were reported to have been killed.

Apart from HR 1477, which Abante co-authored with 1-Rider party-list Rep. Ramon Rodrigo Gutierrez, two similar resolutions were filed earlier. HR 1393 was authored by the Makabayan bloc led by ACT Rep. France Castro and HR 1482 by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.

As I have written in the past, I believe that it would serve the Filipinos better to allow the ICC investigators to come in and see for themselves how the country’s justice system works. If it is indeed “working, free and strong,” as Sen. Marcos and other government officials claim, why do they seem too afraid to let the ICC see it for themselves?

“This resolution is about principles, not personalities. I believe that the rule of law is a sacrosanct principle,” said Abante, a Bible Baptist pastor, to clarify that his move was not directed at Duterte or anybody.

“It is actually upholding the rule of law,” he said, noting that he had supported Duterte’s stand that the ICC should not come to the Philippines to investigate.

“But the thing is this, it has been going on for the past six or seven years, and I begin to realize it will never stop as long as there will always be accusations from some of our people here to the ICC. So, therefore, to put a period to this, why don’t we just allow the ICC to come in and investigate? Anyway, it would be the Philippine government, through the Department of Justice, that would give parameters as far as the investigation is concerned,” Abante pointed out.

If De Lima’s temporary freedom proves that the country’s justice system “is working, free and strong,” as Sen. Marcos claims, why did she have to languish for almost seven years in detention on trumped-up charges? The three drug-related charges were filed after Duterte declared early in his administration that he “would have to destroy [then newly elected senator de Lima] in public.”

Duterte’s Justice secretary at the time, Vitaliano Aguirre, is now trying to dissociate himself from the drug charges, claiming that he had left those to the DoJ prosecutors. He has also been denying the statements of witnesses who had recanted their testimonies against De Lima and, instead, turned the table on them, saying that retractions or affidavits of desistance “always have monetary considerations.”

With the administration’s assertion that the grant of De Lima’s bail petition proves that the justice system is working, what about the case of suspected drug users who were killed without due process?

 

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.

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