SC associate justice aspirant says President can unilaterally withdraw from treaties

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 18 2018 06:40 PM

A lawyer seeking the associate justice post in the Supreme Court believes the President can unilaterally withdraw from a treaty, even without approval by the Senate.

Lawyer Rita Linda Jimeno on Thursday told the Judicial and Bar Council panel that she believes the President can invoke the principle of rebus sic stantibus to justify the withdrawal.

Rebus sic stantibus is an international law principle which allows a treaty to be inapplicable because of a fundamental change of circumstances.

“[I]f there are substantial changes in the circumstances which would then completely change what was agreed upon, then the President may withdraw from a treaty that was earlier signed by him, even affirmed or ratified by the Senate,” she told the JBC panel composed of retired SC Associate Justice Jose Mendoza, Atty. Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, and retired regional trial court Judge Toribio Ilao, Jr.

Elaborating her response to reporters after her interview, Jimeno said the fact that the President’s war on drugs is now being used to prosecute him in the International Criminal Court (ICC) can be considered a substantial change in circumstances justifying withdrawal from the Rome Statute.

The SC has recently concluded oral arguments on petitions filed by minority senators and the Philippine Coalition for the ICC against President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC.

Jimeno said the President’s war on drugs does not fall under any of the crimes punishable under the treaty, not even under “crimes against humanity,” the charge alleged in the communications sent to the ICC.

Under the Rome Statute, “crimes against humanity” refer to certain acts such as murder that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.

“[C]rimes against humanity pertains to a crime against a vast number of people who are defenseless. And for no cause. In this case, there’s a law that allows the government to run after violators of drug laws or crimes against drugs, illegal possession of drugs, illegal possession of drugs,” she explained.

Jimeno, 66, is the managing partner of Jimeno Cope & David Law Offices and the associate dean of Centro Escolar University School of Law. She is a regular member of the executive committee of the Philippine Mediation Center and a professional lecturer of the Philippine Judicial Academy.

This is the fourth time Jimeno is applying for the associate justice post. She had been previously shortlisted twice.

She is up against 11 other applicants, mostly Court of Appeals justices: Oscar Badelles, Manuel Barrios, Apolinario Bruselas, Jr., Rosemari Carandang, Stephen Cruz, Edgardo Delos Santos, Japar Dimaampao, Ramon Garcia, and Amy Lazaro-Javier.

Former Ateneo Law School Dean Cesar Villanueva and Sandiganbayan Justice Alex Quiroz are also in the running to replace the post vacated by retired Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro when she assumed the top magistrate post. Quiroz was also interviewed by the JBC on Thursday morning.

During her interview, Jimeno defended her perceived lack of judicial experience compared to other applicants.

“Actually, I cannot say that I never had any judicial experience because as an arbitrator, which I have been doing for the past 6 or 7 years, I have been a member of a tribunal and I have become a judge so-called, in the understanding, adjudication, and ruling of certain cases. But of course, these were mostly commercial disputes,” she said.

Jimeno said that should she be appointed to the high court, she will bring a “breath of fresh air” because her 32-year experience as litigator and professor allowed her to gather insights on what people think should be done to improve the judicial system.

She described the current SC as more calm and more stable compared to the previous years which saw the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona and the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Jimeno said she will be a “judicial activist in a sense, but not too much.”

“I want to make rulings on the basis of everything, on what the entire picture of an issue is, looking into the big picture, not just too strict or relaxed application of the law but rather the prevailing circumstances,” she said.

Among the hypothetical cases she was asked of was on abortion.

She said she believes the father’s consent is necessary before a woman can abort her baby.

“The fetus or the unborn child belongs to two of them, not just to one. I believe that husband’s consent is important,” she explained.

During her interview, Jimeno was quizzed on various constitutional law concepts such as judicial restraint, separation of powers, equal protection, eminent domain, police power and the doctrine of pacta sunt servanda, some of which she candidly admitted she had already forgotten.

She admitted later on that the interview was tough.

Jimeno, however, has one more hurdle before being shortlisted for the associate justice post: she is facing a criminal complaint filed by planholders of Pacific Plans, Inc.

Jimeno explained she was only impleaded because she served as corporate secretary and held 1 share of stock of Pacific Plans’ successor company.

JBC member Cayosa warned Jimeno that a pending criminal complaint will prevent her from being included in the shortlist of nominees to be submitted to the President.

The SC is looking to fill two other vacancies: the chief justice post left by De Castro and another associate justice post when Associate Justice Noel Tijam retires in January next year.