MANILA—A group of legal experts and human rights advocates that lobbied for the Philippines' ratification of the Rome Statute condemned on Thursday President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to leave the International Criminal Court.
The Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PCICC) said it was "appalled" by the decision.
"The current move of President Duterte to withdraw from the ICC goes against the aspirations of the Filipino people for justice and accountability. It goes against addressing impunity for the most atrocious crimes. The Filipino people's hopes and dreams for holding human rights violators accountable should not be doused by a single man's fear of accountability," Ray Paolo Santiago, chairperson of the organization, said in a statement.
Speaking at a press conference at the Commission on Human Rights, Santiago believes that with the decision the president appears to want to evade accountability.
"By withdrawing simply because he feels he is being targeted goes against the principle of due process," he added, explaining that there is no case yet before the ICC.
Santiago said the preliminary examination being conducted by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor is meant to determine if the international court has jurisdiction to hear the case.
If after the preliminary examination the prosecutor recommends investigation, 3 judges from different countries at the pre-trial chamber court will have to approve the recommendation before an investigation can begin, he added.
"This is a step towards due process of law. The prosecutor is actually exercising due process but the president jumped the gun," he said.
IMPLICATIONS, IMPACT OF LEAVING ICC
Santiago said withdrawing from the ICC sends a signal to the international community that the Philippines is a rogue state that does not want the international community to look into what's happening in the country.
Santiago warned of the repercussions on the country if it breaks away from the ICC.
"It means that Filipino people will now be exposed to no recourse," explaining that the ICC was created as a venue to seek accountability from government leaders who abuse their power when there is no other recourse in the country.
"If there is no justice here in the Philippines, there can be recourse elsewhere.
"He (Duterte) should think of the Filipino people in their quest for justice and accountability, and not just of what he thinks for himself," Santiago said.
NO REASON TO LEAVE
Former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales, a former co-chair of PCICC, said there was no valid reason to leave the ICC.
"When I listened to interviews, all they're doing is to protect Duterte from the ICC. When you listen to (Chief Presidential Legal Counsel) Salvador Panelo, (Presidential Spokesperson) Harry Roque, they want to protect him," she noted.
Commission on Human Rights commissioner Roberto Eugenio Cadiz advised the government not to trivialize the ICC issue by coming up with propaganda.
"ICC guys have solid reputation. They cannot be intimidated," he said.
THE ROQUE CONNECTION
Duterte's announcement on Wednesday hit PCICC closer to home when former PCICC chair and now Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque came out to openly support the president's decision.
Santiago said he was perplexed at the news of Roque's admission that he advised the president on the issue but he was willing to give Roque the benefit of the doubt, noting that Roque did not say if he advised the president before the decision was made.
Cadiz said it must have been Panelo, not Roque, who advised Duterte to leave the ICC. He noted Roque's previous statement that he had a two-hour meeting with the president, whom he said was willing to face the ICC.
In contrast, it was Panelo who distributed the statement which among others, cited publication in the Official Gazette and fraud -- arguments only a "domestic practitioner" would cite, according to Cadiz.
But Rosales was less forgiving.
"If you read his blog, he was so excited about the Philippines' joining ICC. I should know. Harry was so passionate about the Rome Statute," she said, citing a 7-year-old blog post of Roque.
" 'Yung 180-degree turn niya must have been motivated by reasons other than principles of justice, equality and protection of humanity," Rosales said.
Another former co-chair, Dean Raul Pangalangan, former dean of the UP College of Law, currently sits as a judge at the ICC.