Lawyers’ group questions Roque's competence in int'l law in opposing UN body bid

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 30 2021 06:22 PM

Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry Roque Jr. shares his remarks to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Arcadia Active Lifestyle Center in Matina, Davao City on February 15, 2021. Joey Dalumpines, Presidential Photo
Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry Roque Jr. shares his remarks to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Arcadia Active Lifestyle Center in Matina, Davao City on February 15, 2021. Joey Dalumpines, Presidential Photo/File

MANILA— The Free Legal Assistance Group on Wednesday reiterated its opposition to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s bid to join a United Nations (UN) advisory body, questioning his competence in international law.

In a letter sent to the International Law Commission (ILC) and UN member states, FLAG, headed by its chairman Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, said Roque is not qualified to join the commission.

“By his own public statements, Mr. Roque has consistently demonstrated that he is not a person of recognized competence in international law,” the group said.

“In particular, in his attempt to silence any international scrutiny of the extrajudicial killigs in the Philippines, Mr. Roque has not only publicly belittled and discredited the integrity and relevance of the United Nations, he has also displayed his patently erroneous understanding of international law,” it added, referring to the spokesperson’s statements regarding the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

FLAG cited Roque’s statement in July 2019 where he called the UNHRC a “toothless tiger” and a “shaming mechanism,” and questioned its “moral authority” to call for enforcement of human rights.

This was in response to a vote at the UNHRC calling for a comprehensive report on extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights subsequently released a damning report in June 2020 detailing widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity due to a heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs.

In October last year, it decided to adopt a resolution providing technical cooperation and capacity-building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, a move seen as falling short of launching an independent international probe.

FLAG also brought up Roque’s position on the ICC probe on the Philippine drug war.

In a public briefing in June, Roque claimed there is no unwillingness on the part of Philippine authorities to prosecute cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, citing the imprisonment of 2 previous Philippine presidents. 

He also said there is no inability to prosecute because there are ongoing investigations and that only the Philippines could investigate crimes in the country now that it is no longer part of the ICC.

FLAG said Roque’s statements are misleading because the imprisonment of the 2 former presidents involved is “entirely separate and historical cases of other persons.”

It added that Roque misled the public by failing to discuss the absence of relevant national proceedings in the Philippines against the persons most responsible for the criminal acts and in glossing over the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties that withdrawal of a state from the Rome Statute does not divest the ICC of jurisdiction over crimes committed when it was still a part of the ICC.

The lawyers’ group further accused Roque of complicity in the killings.

“[T]hrough his constant and faithful defense of the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s public orders to kill, Mr. Roque has publicly extended assistance to the Philippine government under Mr. Duterte, that is now the subject of the investigation authorized by the ICC,” it said, warning he may be liable under the Rome Statute either as a “high official” the ICC Prosecutor may investigate or “contributing in any other manner.”

Roque had sought to explain the President’s statements admitting extrajudicial killings and human rights violations as having been made in jest and tried to distance the President’s order to kill quarantine violators from an actual death during the pandemic.

“His own public pronouncements reveal the extent to which Mr. Roque has gone to insulate the human rights violations in the Philippines from any remedy afforded by international law. He has publicly discredited the integrity of the United Nations, publicized patently erroneous statements on the fundamentals of international law, and justified Mr. Duterte’s orders to kill which are now subject of an investigation,” it said.

“Mr. Roque’s own public pronouncements attest to his lack of integrity and erroneous understanding of international law, and repudiate any pretense of his being a person of recognized competence in international law,” it added.

FLAG had previously assailed Roque’s integrity and character in its first letter to the ILC and UN member states early this month.

Roque had dismissed the criticisms as coming from people who do not wish him to succeed and stressed that the only important criteria is competence in international law.

Roque taught international law at the University of the Philippines College of Law for more than a decade and has argued public interested cases before the Supreme Court. 

He is one of 11 candidates vying for 8 seats allocated to Asia-Pacific states at the ILC, a UN body that undertakes studies and makes recommendations for the development of international law and its codification.

But over 220 groups, netizens, and even the executive committees of his own high school and college have opposed his nomination.