I was witness to a historic meeting between two presidents: President Noynoy Aquino and Judge Sang-Hyun Song, President of the International Criminal Court, last Monday at Malacañang’s “yellow room”.
Since the year 2000, the Philippines, under then-President Joseph Estrada, signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This is the first permanent international tribunal created to prosecute the most serious crimes that can be committed against the international community: war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The problem was that under former President Gloria Arroyo, the country shied away from membership in the court for various reasons. The most important among which were the opposition of the United States to the Court, and the Mrs. Arroyo’s own fear of being prosecuted before the Court.
“You do not even have to persuade me to join the Court”, a beaming P-Noy told Judge Song. “In fact, I have already sent the Rome Statute to our Senate for its concurrence.”
Under our constitution, no treaty may become valid and binding unless it is concurred in by two-thirds of all the members of the Senate. As early as 2005, we sought to effect that transmittal even through a petition that we filed in the Supreme Court in the case of Pimentel versus Executive Secretary. But with one signature, P-Noy achieved what we have been trying to do for nine long years: the transmittal of the statute to the Senate preparatory to our membership in the ICC.
Song, as diplomats often do, read from a prepared statement. He spoke about mankind’s painful experience with impunity and the need to ensure that individuals who may commit the most serious crimes should be brought to justice. He spoke about the 114 countries that have already become members of the Court, and his wish to see the Philippine as its newest member.
On hindsight, while Song’s statement was both officious and moving, it was not even necessary. The President, himself a victim of the extra-legal killing of his father, committed to make such killings a crime against humanity as part of state policy. He recognizes the need to effect an end to impunity through penology. Indeed, President Aquino needed no persuasion at all.
With the President was his entire legal staff: the Justice Secretary, the Solicitor General, and the Presidential Legal Counsel. There too was the Defense Secretary and some officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Before leaving the Palace, we were told by the President’s protocol officer, Ambassador Miguel Perez Rubio, that the President was leaving for Indonesia in about six hours and was taking a budget airline at that.
That, too, was historical. It was the first time for a sitting Philippine president to take a budget airline for an official trip abroad. I was so happy to hear this and could not help comparing the humility and prudence of P-Noy to the extravagance of his predecessor who spared no expense in her foreign trips. It was yet another reason to be proud of P-Noy.
Prior to the meeting with P Noy, President Song was in the Senate where he was assured by Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign affairs, of the chamber’s prompt action on the Rome Statute. She promised that the Senate concurrence would come before the Senate goes on recess on 9 June of this year.
Later in the day, the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court and Centerlaw, a civil society organization which I chair, tendered a dinner to honor President Song at the Club Filipino. As host and moderator, I recalled how five years ago, Judge Song came on an unofficial meeting to lobby for our membership in the ICC.
Because his first visit was a purely civil society initiative, I recalled, to the audience’s delight, how we billeted Judge Song then in a motel in Quezon City. What a difference an official visit could make; this time around, he was billeted at one of our posh hotels.
Judge Song then spent the following morning addressing a standing-room-only crowd at the Malcolm Theater of the UP College of Law. He left yesterday afternoon for Malaysia. He left a community of admirers and a country hopeful that the ICC could end impunity in our land.
While saying goodbye to Judge Song in Diliman, the House committee on justice made history when they found probable cause for impeachment against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. Almost at the same time, the festive mood at the UP College of Law was shattered by the news that the Supreme Court had voted to admonish 36 of my colleagues for their statement “Restoring Integrity”, an official statement of the faculty of the UP College of Law deploring an act of plagiarism at the Supreme Court. Then I heard a radio report that Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte was inquiring from the secretary of the House committee on justice about the status of the impeachment complaint against Justice Mariano Del Castillo.
One battle at a time. That was what I told myself before succumbing to a long and well-deserved sleep.