I invite the public to take note of the recent filing of a complaint that seeks to charge President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and 11 other government officials with mass murder and crimes against humanity. Everyone must study the matter closely.
I personally consider this as an important step towards strengthening the rule of law: one, in terms of holding the individuals concerned accountable for their actions, words and inactions; and two, in terms of subjecting the current approach to drug abuse – Mr. Duterte’s so-called “War on Drugs” – to a thorough and objective judicial review. The case raises transcendental legal and policy issues, and it is our duty as stakeholders to examine these issues with close and critical scrutiny.
Having said this, I would emphasize that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an international tribunal whose mandate, jurisdiction and procedures are governed exclusively by a treaty called the Rome Statute. The Philippines ratified this treaty in 2011 through the skillful advocacy of civil society organizations led by the Philippine Coalition for the International Court (PCICC) in partnership with the Presidential Human Rights Committee and the Commission on Human Rights which I chaired then, as well as reform-minded leaders in Congress and the Security Sector.
The Philippines’ strong relationship with the ICC can also be considered as one of the shining legacies of the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago who had masterfully shepherded the Senate’s concurrence to the Rome Statute and who was herself later elected as the first ever Filipino judge of the ICC. Raul Pangalangan, a brilliant Filipino jurist and former Law Dean of the University of the Philippines, currently serves as a judge of the ICC. He fondly recalls that his election as Judge of the ICC can be traced to an earlier time when we were both Co-Chairs of the PCICC, focused on lobbying for the Rome Statute’s ratification.
I mention these historical facts to help refocus the debate on the country’s relationship with the ICC. The process of accession to the Rome Statute took over a decade. While it did require a lot of sacrifice – a veritable change in cultural perceptions, with no less than then President Benigno Aquino asking the hard questions to ensure sovereign integrity – ultimately the decision to join the ICC hinged on general acceptance of one key principle: That crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by holding the individuals who commit such crimes accountable can international law be upheld.
The filing of a complaint is just the beginning of a rigorous process of judicial determination. This context will require significant investment of the ICC’s time and resources in order to gather the voluminous evidence necessary to bring the charges forward, hold a trial, convict and punish the concerned persons. There is no room for politics in that process. All sides should therefore refrain from framing this process to suit vested political ends. Not for one moment should anyone use the ICC, and for this particular case, as tool for propaganda and deal-making. ###