After eleven years of lobbying, the Philippine Senate yesterday gave its concurrence to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This will finally pave the way for the country to be the 117th state party to the International Criminal Court. Ironically, Commission on Human Rights chairman Loretta Ann Rosales rightfully observed that 117 is also reflective of the voting pattern yesterday at the Senate: one negative vote and 17 affirmative votes! It was Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who cast the lone dissenting vote amidst his continuing concern that Philippine troops fighting real live insurgencies may be subject to nuisance suits before the court. This is a concern that is readily addressed by the Rome statute since the court will only exercise jurisdiction on the basis of “complementarity”: only when our domestic courts are unable and unwilling to do so. It was an afternoon of suspense, to say the least. Two days ago, I was at the Senate floor with no less than 100 supporters of the court to witness the much-awaited concurrence. We were disappointed. After the opening rituals, Senate Majority Floor leader Tito Sotto asked the senators to attend a caucus at the senators’ lounge. We thought that the caucus was about the citation for contempt against the LTA accountant who was believed to be lying through her teeth. Little did we know that it was about the ICC! In a last-ditch effort to stall our membership in the court, the Senate President apparently warned the senators about his perceived downside of membership in the court. Out of deference to their leader, the body then agreed to defer voting on the resolution for a day. That was the cliffhanger. At least three senators warned me that it would be difficult to pass a resolution that the Senate President opposed. It was hence a long day of lobbying with seemingly endless telephone calls and text messages to any senator who was willing to listen. In the end, one senator claimed, “concurrence was never threatened at any point”. Apparently, the one-day deferment was simply out of deference to Senator Enrile. The International Criminal Court was created to prosecute individuals who may commit the most serious crimes against the international community. These crimes include genocide, defined as an “intent to destroy in whole or in part, a nationality, ethnic or religious group of people”; war crimes, defined as “targeting protected individuals and resorting to prohibited means and methods of warfare”; crimes against humanity, defined as “widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations knowing that it is being directed against civilian populations”; and aggression, or the act of waging war.
The court will prosecute individuals without regard to sovereign immunity as a defense, a fact that has enabled the court to issue two warrants of arrests against sitting heads of state: Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Moammar Gaddhafi of Libya. Furthermore, it prosecutes individuals who are probably guilty of the foregoing crime on the basis of command responsibility. This principle provides that military commanders and sitting presidents may be held responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates where they knew about it and failed to prevent their happening. Furthermore, there is no prescription for these crimes. This explains why very old individuals are still being tried for crimes that they committed as long ago as World War II. The timely Senate ratification will also enable us to nominate a Judge to the court. Apparently, one seat is up for grabs for Asia in this year’s Assembly of State Parties election for Judges scheduled for December of this year. Had the Senate waited any longer, we would miss the deadline for nomination, which is already on September 2 of this year.
Of course we celebrated. Becky Lozada, Executive Director of the Philippine Coalition for the ICC, treated to a feast at a fusion Filipino restaurant at the trendy techno hub. But after the celebration, the reality set in that the task ahead are still challenging, if not daunting.
First, there is the procedure for nominating Judges. The Rome Statute provides that we must comply with the process of selecting Judges for our own Supreme Court, or through the Judicial Bar Council. Alternatively, we should comply with the process required for the nomination of judges for the International Court of Justice. The problem with both is the lack of time given the deadline of September 2.
Then there is the obligation under the Rome Statute to punish crimes cognizable by the ICC under domestic law and to do all acts necessary for a state party to cooperate with the Court. Fortunately, the recently enacted International Humanitariam Law is sufficient basis for our courts to exercise primary jurisdiction for purposes of complementarity. It is only in the area of cooperation that we have to pass further legislation, executive orders and even revisions to our rules of court. This is a challenge since the need now is to lobby all three branches of government to ensure that our domestic laws and procedure are in synch with the Rome statute.
To be candid, I never thought that membership in the ICC was possible, at least before I become geriatric. This is because of the many atrocities under both the Marcos and Arroyo regimes that remain unpunished. Well, it’s always a pleasure to be proven wrong. Here, credit should go to both the Senate and to President Benigno Aquino III. It was the latter who reversed the Arroyo policy of rejecting the ICC as a means of ending impunity. On behalf of all victims of impunity, I express my gratitude to both the Senate and Pnoy for finally granting the Filipino people an effective remedy to impunity.