House panels approve resolutions for Philippines cooperation with ICC

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MANILA — Two committees of the House of Representatives have approved and consolidated resolutions that encourage President Marcos to allow the Philippines to cooperate in the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s probe into the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, meanwhile, said he did not think Marcos intended to have the country rejoin the ICC anytime soon.

Senators including Ronald dela Rosa, the main enforcer of the war on drugs when he was police chief, had a “casual dinner” with the President and First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos at Malacañang on Tuesday. It was unclear if the ICC issue was among the main topics discussed.

Through an overwhelming voice vote, officials and members of the joint committee on justice and human rights adopted House Resolution 1477 of Manila 6th District Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. and 1-Rider party-list Rep. Ramon Gutierrez, and consolidated House Resolution 1482 of Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman.

The legislators filed the resolutions last Nov. 21, aiming to allow the ICC entry into the country.

“By allowing ICC to come, it’s telling the world that we have nothing to hide here,” Abante, who also chairs the committee on human rights of the House, said.

He added that he only wants to demonstrate that the country’s justice system is functioning efficiently, contrary to claims made by some.

“We just want to show to the whole world and to the ICC that our justice system is running smoothly,” the lawmaker said.

Lagman, the president of the opposition Liberal Party and a vocal critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte, maintained that letting the ICC in is not a surrender of sovereignty but an exercise of it.

“If we believe in the rule of law, then we must let ICC come in,” Lagman said.

He contended that allowing ICC to investigate does not compromise national sovereignty.

The Philippines withdrew its ICC membership in 2017 following an investigation into alleged “crimes against humanity” related to casualties in the government’s war on drugs, as ordered by Duterte, whose term started in 2016 and ended middle of last year.

Bersamin weighs in

When President Marcos said that the proposals to return to the ICC are “under study,” he does not mean that the country would be rejoining very soon, according to Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.

Bersamin expressed belief that Marcos’ response only meant that he did not want to give immediate answers to proposals for the country to rejoin the ICC.

“Well, you cannot just close doors (on these discussions), but I am sure that what the President means is that it cannot be a knee-jerk reaction that we can put forward anytime we are asked a question like this,” the executive secretary said.

He added that while he could not second-guess the President in answering to these proposals, “in my view, as far as I know him, he does not mean that we are going back to the ICC very soon.”

“But when (Marcos) says ‘he is studying,’ it is something that you say that you do not react too quickly. You have to look at the consequences, the long-term effects,” Bersamin said.

In making decisions, the President “listens to his own conscience, to his own heart, that is something we have to appreciate in him,” according to the former chief justice, noting that Marcos is “a very prudent leader and is not prone to rush to judgment.”

“Personally, I do not see any reason for us to go back (to the ICC) because the Philippines already has a functioning justice institution and that the procedures are in place. If crimes are committed, the government investigates,” the executive secretary said.

“The ICC is for lawless countries or lawless dictators. But we do not have a dictator, we have a democratically elected President,” he added.

Also, not all countries are members of the ICC, Bersamin pointed out.

Asked if he had mentioned his opinion to the Chief Executive, he replied, “We do not need to talk about it because the President is a law follower.”

‘No legal duty’

Meanwhile, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra has reiterated that the Philippines has “no legal duty” to cooperate with the ICC in its investigation of the Duterte administration’s bloody drug war.

“The ICC can no longer exercise its jurisdiction after the effectivity of the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute in 2019,” Guevarra told reporters in a text message last Tuesday.

He issued the remark in light of resolutions filed in Congress urging the government to cooperate with ICC’s investigation into the drug war killings.

He said that even if the resolutions are adopted, they are only “non-binding expressions” of the Congress’ sentiment.

On the issue of the Philippines rejoining the ICC as a member-state, Guevarra said it is a policy decision that needs “very serious study because many factors and competing interests need to be considered.”

Investigators from the Hague-based ICC are free to come to the Philippines to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings, but they cannot expect authorities to cooperate on the basis that the government has issues with regard to jurisdiction.

Guevarra made this crystal clear to members of the House of Representatives who endorsed separate resolutions calling on the Marcos administration to rejoin the ICC.

“Your resolutions urge the President to cooperate, but the final say of whether, in fact, the government will cooperate will be with the President,” the country’s chief government lawyer, who served as Department of Justice secretary and deputy executive secretary during Duterte’s term, said.

“We will not cooperate, but we will not stop ICC investigators from doing their job,” Guevarra added.

Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr. said he respects the opinion of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who served as the Philippine National Police chief when Duterte took over the reins of government in mid-2016.

“We respect his opinion, but we ask for parliamentary courtesy. As he very well knows, the House is mandated to act on resolutions filed by its members regardless of political affiliations in the same manner that the Senate takes action on measures presented by senators,” Gonzales added.

DOJ open to VP’s note

The Department of Justice is open and waiting for the legal opinion on the ICC issue that Vice President Sara Duterte said she would send to the DOJ.

“We will include her note and comments therein as part of the considerations and study,” DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano said yesterday.

“The issue is multi-faceted, and we must see things from a holistic perspective. In all this discussion, let us not forget that the goal is to attain justice for victims of extrajudicial killings. Plain and simple,” Clavano added.

Duterte earlier said she would urge the DOJ not to cooperate in the ICC’s investigation, saying her office would continue to assert its position and would lay down their legal basis.

The Vice President, however, maintained that the position of Marcos on the issue should be respected.

The ICC decided to resume its inquiry into the Philippines’ war on drugs last January.

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