I’m in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for an unprecedented seven lectures in a span of five days. The first three, two of which are done, is in the National University of Malaysia in Bangi, about an hour away from downtown Kuala Lumpur. The occasion here is the 6th Southeast Asia Teaching Seminar on International Humanitarian Law (SEATS) sponsored by the regional delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. I am now the longest running lecturer at this forum, having lectured at all six sessions of the seminar. This year’s batch has he most number of Filipinos attending: a faculty member each from the Philippine Military Academy, the Philippine National Police Academy and the Western Mindanao University; a journalist based in Koronadal, and a Committee Secretary at the House of Representatives.
My topics are “Challenges in the Implementation of IHL in Non-International Armed Conflicts” and “Counter-Terrorism Measures and IHL”. On the first, the issue revolves around how treaty obligations intended to protect mankind during armed conflicts can be made applicable to non-state actors. Here, I emphasized that the principles of protection and humane treatment, as well as the limitation on means and methods of warfare as stated in the principles of distinction, military necessity and proportionality have achieved the status of jus cogens, or non-derogable norms, and are hence applicable to both states and individuals.
The second was a longer and more lively discussion which examined recent decisions of the Supreme Court on whether the on-going “war against terror” is governed by IHL, a query which the US Supreme Court has answered affirmatively in these three cases, and on such other measures such as the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, “rendition” and targeted killings”, all of which are frowned upon by both international and domestic laws.
Later today, I will hold a public talk at the university itself on the topic of the “Role of National Courts in the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law”. There, Philippine Supreme Court decisions in such landmark cases such as Yamashita vs. Tyler and Kuroda vs. Jalandoni, which held that the rules and customs of war are binding on us even in the absence of local legislation, as well as David vs. Arroyo, the decision which declared former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s executive order calling upon the military and the police with xxx “acts of terrorism” as unconstitutional in the absence of a legislative definition of “terrorism”. This plays prominently with such prominent decisions of foreign courts such as In re: Pinochet, a decision which ruled that immunity cannot be raised as a defense for in prosecutions involving international crimes, and Paquete Habana, a US Supreme Court decision that also upheld the binding nature of a principle of IHL, the prohibition on the arrest of fishing vessels as prize of war, even in the absence of local US legislation.
Then I literally rush to the University of Malaya where the 3rd biennial conference of the Southeast Asia Media Legal defense Network (SEA MLDN) is being held. This is an organization of lawyers dedicated to defending journalists and media outlets, as well as to the promotion of the freedoms of expression and free press. Hopefully, I will arrive just on time for the opening panel, the country reports on the status of freedom of expression in the 10 Asean countries. My prognosis is that while freedom of expression and freedom of the press have greatly improved under President Aquino’s administration, it is still far from ideal. I will mention the continuing murder of journalists that have not seen the light of day in any courtroom, including that of the killing of Palawan-based broadcaster Gerry Ortega, the snail-paced trial of the Maguindanao massacre case that claimed the lives of 32 journalists and today described as the deadliest attack on journalists worldwide, as well as the IIRC recommendation to prosecute members of the media for their coverage of the Luneta hostage crisis.
I will also report that criminal libel continues to be used as an affront on press freedom highlighting the fact that while the former First Gentleman has ceased to file libel cases, it is now a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court that has developed the penchant for doing so. Furthermore, I will highlight disparaging remarks made by PNoy and his spokesperson against press freedom. PNoy has at least two of these remarks in his first year of office: a statement during the induction of the Ad Board to the effect that advertisers should not patronize media outlets that sensationalize the news, a remark which was reminiscent of President Erap’s call to movie producers boycott the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s entertainment section, and a complaint that media is not covering the gains of his administration and is instead focusing on his love life.
Marites Vitug, who has described PNoy as a “serial dater” is also attending the conference together with veteran reporter and columnist Ellen Tordesillas. There too will be a mention of the fact that PNoy reneged on his election promise to support the enactment of the freedom of information bill.
On the good news, I will report the Supreme Court decision allowing the live coverage of the Maguindanao massacre, a major triumph for the right to know, albeit clouded by the issued media guidelines—the subject of a pending motion for reconsideration.
Still later tonight, over dinner, I will discuss developments in the Maguindanao massacre case, including the recent machinations of Zaldy Ampatuan and his Palace backers. Later in the conference, I will lecture also on international remedies for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, an area where we have acquired a regional expertise. Finally, I will participate in a debate in support of the proposition that public figures do not have private lives.
Immediately when I get back, my UP office, the Institute of International Legal Studies of the UP Law Center will hold a two day “National Summit on the Kalayaan Group of Islands and the West Philippine Seas” on August 1 and 2. At least four members of the cabinet have confirmed their attendance. On 5 August, my Institute will also sponsor a public talk featuring Anwar Ibrahim on the topic “Rizal, Ninoy and Asian leadership”.
Talk about being busy!