The still-unconvincing ICC

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Thursday last week I had the honor of being invited to talk as reactor at the Regional Forum on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court organized by LAWASIA Philippines and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. There I again raised my doubts -- not as to the need for the ICC (which is a different issue all its own) but on the wisdom of the Philippines joining it at this time.

To reiterate, the ICC is a permanent institution, exercising jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern. Envisioned to operate similarly to the International Court of Justice, the Court instead exercises jurisdiction over individuals committing the crimes of genocide, aggression, serious violations of laws and customs applicable to armed conflict, crimes against humanity, and other such crimes.

Note that the Philippines signed into the Rome Statute on 28 December 2000. The Senate gave its concurrence to this on 30 August 2011, with Philippine membership effectively starting on 1 November 2011. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it must also be remembered, entered into force on 1 July 2002. The ICC, like any criminal court, however, works prospectively. Thus, any statement (assuming the local advocates for the ICC were actually serious when they said it) that with the ICC former President Gloria Arroyo can be held accountable for whatever or that the alleged human rights victims during the Marcos administration can get justice or Japan can now be made to pay further reparations to the comfort women are clearly ridiculous.

Furthermore, it must be emphasized that the Philippines is not involved in any international armed conflict. The Philippines, definitely under legal definitions that we should be espousing for the sake of national interest, is also not engaged in any internal armed conflict. The chances of the Philippines, therefore, in making use of the ICC to protect its citizens is minimal. Notably, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, or China (our co-claimants to the Spratly or Kalayaan islands) or Libya, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, or Pakistan (where a lot of our OFWs are) are not parties to the ICC. This means that we can’t even use the ICC to protect our soldiers defending our interests or OFW rights. In any event, there are other avenues available to the Philippines in that regard.

A further reason for the nonnecessity of the Philippines joining the ICC is the enactment of RA 9851 or the “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.” While another ill-conceived and sloppily thought-out law, nevertheless, it does make Philippine membership in the ICC a completely un-urgent matter (if not a redundancy). In any event, we should not be distracted from the fact that any incident that occurs within the Philippines could validly and satisfactorily be dealt with by simply implementing our Constitution and domestic laws. At most, the application of international customary human rights law or provisions of international human rights conventions that the Philippines entered into, by way of the utilization of the doctrine of incorporation, as embodied in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, would suffice.

Which leads me to my biggest concern regarding our joining the ICC: the possibility that international criminal cases can be hurled against our police or military officers, even public officials, upon the mere instigation by any foreign or local individual. There is simply no safeguard against the probability that prosecutions can be made against our public or military officials due to ideological or foreign funded interests. Which directs us to issues of national security and national interests. Assuming that the Philippines want to assert its rights in relation to territorial integrity, particularly in Mindanao, our public and military officials will now be working warily under the cloud that at any moment they could be hauled off to and imprisoned by an international court just because charges were filed by some domestic crusading lawyer out to make a name for himself.

That is why Sudan, Israel, and the US have “unsigned” from the Rome Statute. And that is why African countries are now thinking of doing the same, frustrated as they are that the ICC, after being in operation for nine years, seems only interested in prosecuting Africans, thus raising suspicions of Western or racial bias. Hence my insistence: yes, human rights in this country should be aggressively protected. But to do so is a matter I would trust fellow Filipinos with, who knows our particular circumstances (eccentric they may be) rather than some foreigner at The Hague.

Frankly, I find it profoundly bizarre that the government is openly contemptuous of our very own Supreme Court and yet display huge confidence in a foreign “international” court. I also find it disappointing that, rather than make policies designed to advance national interests, our government instead prefers to stoop down and satisfy a single politician’s wish of joining an international tribunal.