VERA FILES FACT CHECK: In his 1st media briefing as Palace spokesman, Panelo makes two wrong claims on the ICC

Newly appointed Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, in his first press briefing on Oct. 12, made two wrong claims about the International Criminal Court (ICC)—bringing to four the number of blunders he has made about the tribunal.

He falsely claimed the Philippines “did not withdraw” from the ICC despite pushing for it months ago. He also misrepresented facts about the detention of previous presidents on plunder charges to support his claim that the country’s justice system does not need the ICC.

STATEMENT

Responding to concerns over the possible consequences of the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC to the country’s maritime disputes with China, Panelo said:

“Actually, misnomer iyong withdrawal eh (the withdrawal is a misnomer). Hindi naman tayo nag-withdraw (We did not withdraw) actually. The...notice was more of informing them that “Excuse me, we’re not part of you, because you never assumed jurisdiction over us.”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Oct. 12, 2018, watch from 21:01 to 21:17

Panelo then argued that the Philippines’ “robust judicial system” has proven its ability to jail erring presidents and the country, therefore, can do without the ICC in prosecuting “bad leaders”:

“As the Rome Statute says, it will only come in if the state is unwilling, or unable. But we are not only willing, we are able. What’s the proof? We jailed the former President Erap (Joseph Estrada); people rightly, wrongly perceived him to be a bad leader. We also detained the former President Gloria Arroyo, but we she was finally acquitted.”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Oct. 12, 2018, watch from 22:15 to 22:46

FACT

Panelo’s first claim is false; the second is misleading.

The Philippine government withdrew as a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, in an official notification submitted to the United Nations March 17:

“The Government of the Republic of the Philippines has the honor to inform the Secretary-General, in his capacity as depositary of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, of its decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Statute.”

Source: United Nations Treaty Collection, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Philippines: Withdrawal

Two days later, the ICC acknowledged the Philippines’ decision amid an ongoing preliminary examination of crimes allegedly committed in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

The decision was formalized days after Duterte announced his plan to withdraw “effective immediately,” citing “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks” from UN officials.

Panelo's second claim is misleading because the ICC's mandate is not to prosecute “bad leaders” but those who commit the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community.” These are:

  • Genocide
  • Crimes against humanity
  • War crimes
  • Crimes of aggression

Estrada and Arroyo were both charged with plunder, a crime the ICC has no jurisdiction over.

Estrada, sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007 for receiving hundreds of millions of pesos in protection money from “jueteng” operators and maintaining P3.23 billion in secret bank accounts, was pardoned by Arroyo the same year.

Arroyo, now House Speaker, has been cleared of her alleged involvement in several corruption scandals. The dismissed cases include the misuse of P365 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intel funds in 2016; the questionable transfer of P530 million intended for overseas Filipino workers that was in 2012; the P728 million fertilizer fund in 2014; and the P16.4 billion National Broadband Network-ZTE deal in 2016.

Earlier this year, Panelo, as Duterte’s legal counsel, inaccurately claimed that 28 percent of the ICC’s funding comes from the Philippines and that the United States “withdrew” from the Rome Statute, a treaty it never ratified in the first place.

Sources:

ABS-CBN News, Ombudsman junks graft case vs GMA, Oct. 25, 2012

ABS-CBN News, Ombudsman clears Arroyo in fertilizer fund scam, May 9, 2014

GMA News Online, Ombudsman junks plunder raps vs. Arroyo over alleged misuse of OWWA funds, Oct. 24, 2012

Inquirer,net, Arroyo cleared in P728M fertilizer fund scam, May 8, 2014

Inquirer.net, Ombudsman junks Arroyo malversation raps, Oct. 24, 2012

Inquirer.net, Duterte does the inevitable, declares PH withdrawal from ICC, March 14, 2018.

International Criminal Court, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court, ICC Statement on The Philippines’ notice of withdrawal: State participation in Rome Statute system essential to international rule of law, March 20, 2018

Official Gazette, From the Presidential Spokesperson, March 14, 2018

Official Gazette, Pardon granting executive clemency to Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Oct. 25, 2007

Philstar.com, Duterte announces Philippines’ withdrawal from ICC, March 14, 2018

Sandiganbayan, People of the Philippines v. Estrada et al., Sept. 12, 2007

Sandiganbayan, People v. Ma. Gloria M. Macapagal-Arroyo, Aug. 8, 2016

Supreme Court, Arroyo v. People of the Philippines and the Sandiganbayan (First Division), July 21, 2016

The Guardian, Rodrigo Duterte to pull Philippines out of international criminal court, March 14, 2018

The Manila Times, GMA cleared in fertilizer fund scam, May 8, 2014

United Nations Treaty Collection, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Philippines: Withdrawal.


Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.

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