Philippines still compelled to cooperate with ICC, group says after SC ruling

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Posted at Jul 22 2021 12:29 PM | Updated as of Jul 22 2021 03:54 PM

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MANILA (UPDATE) — The Philippines is still obliged to cooperate in criminal proceedings of the International Criminal Court even if it has withdrawn from the tribunal, a group said Thursday following a Supreme Court ruling that junked petitions questioning the government's unilateral departure from the ICC. 

Lawyer Ray Paolo Santiago, co-chair of the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, said the government is still bound by its obligations when it was a member of the war crimes court.

"What is stated in the Rome Statute are 2 things. One is that any proceeding that has started even before withdrawal will continue. It's as if you are still a state party there," he told ANC's "Rundown".

"Second is that even if you have already withdrawn, as long as there is a need for cooperation, the government or the state is expected to cooperate," he added.

The ICC has sought a full-blown investigation into drug war killings in the Philippines, saying crimes against humanity could have been committed.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in the government's bloody anti-narcotics campaign when President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016. Human rights groups estimate the figure could be much higher.

Malacañang had said that the President would not cooperate with the ICC, claiming the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the Philippines.

The Philippines withdrew from the ICC in 2019 after the court launched a preliminary examination into the war on drugs, one of Duterte's centerpiece policies.

'STATEMENT OF FACT'

But a ruling from the high court, made in March but only made public on Wednesday, July 21, said the Philippines was still compelled to cooperate with the ICC.

"A State party withdrawing from the Rome Statute must still comply with this provision. Even if it has deposited the instrument of withdrawal, it shall not be discharged from any criminal proceedings. Whatever process was already initiated before the International Criminal Court obliges the state party to cooperate," a decision from 15 magistrates read.

"Until the withdrawal took effect on March 17, 2019, the Philippines was committed to meet its obligations under the Rome Statute. Any and all governmental acts up to March 17, 2019 may be taken cognizance of by the International Criminal Court," it added.

The statement of the Supreme Court on the effect of the ICC withdrawal, however, was not the main issue in the ruling as the high court decided to dismiss the petitions on the basis of mootness and lack of standing of the petitioners, which include minority senators, the PCICC and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

It said that the Philippines had completed the withdrawal even before the petitions were filed, with the acceptance of the United Nations Secretary General of the notice of withdrawal on March 17, 2018. 

It, however, suggested guidelines for future cases.

Asked if anyone could bring a suit against the Philippine government to compel it to cooperate with any potential ICC probe on the basis of the Supreme Court's statements in this case, Santiago said it depends on what type of cooperation but ultimately, he said he doesn't think that that case is justiciable or worth looking into by the court.

Santiago, however, sees the decision from the Supreme Court as a "statement of fact" than a "victory."

"So, even if you withdraw, you had been bound by that Rome Statute. You withdraw in good faith based on the terms of that Rome Statute but you would also have to respect what has been stated in that provisions of the Rome Statute," he said.

Last week, Duterte said he may run for vice president in next year's elections to be immune from suit.

“Sabi ng batas, kung presidente ka, bise presidente ka, may immunity ka. Eh di tatakbo na lang ako na bise presidente.

(The law states that if you are president or vice president, you have immunity. If that is so, I will run as vice president.)

His claim has been debunked by experts as a vice president does not get immunity.