US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton during his booking at the Olongapo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 74 this morning, 19 Dec 2014.

Our first (and so far only) look at US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton (in grey suit) during his booking at the Olongapo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 74 this morning, 19 Dec 2014. This video was taken during a public hearing. He entered and left through a private door.

The Chinese view on the Philippine arbitration on the West Philippine Sea

Judge Xue

Judge Xue

Participants to the recently concluded 4th biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law in New Delhi, India last November 15, 2017 heard for the first time the Chinese position on the Philippine arbitral claim on the West Philippines Sea dispute.

In the said conference, I delivered a paper entitled “What next after the Chinese Snub? Examining the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedure: Philippines vs. China”. My paper argued that the issues that the Philippines brought to the arbitral claims, to wit, the validity of China’s nine-dash lines, whether certain low-tide elevations where China has built installations pertain to the Philippines as part of its continental shelf; and whether the waters surrounding the territorial sea of Panatag form part of the Philippines EEZ are issues of interpretation of specific provisions of the UNCLOS and hence, were within the compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure of the UNCLOS.

Further, while I acknowledged that China’s reservations on maritime delimitation and law enforcement activities in the exercise of sovereign rights were more challenging obstacles to hurdle, they were not insurmountable because the language of the Philippine claim does not call for a ruling involving any of the reservations made by China.

My paper assumed that the Tribunal’s jurisdiction over China as party to the proceedings was well settled. This is because China, as a party to the UNCLOS, has accepted the dispute settlement procedure of the Convention, together with all the provisions of the Convention which were all adopted on the basis of consensus.

The Chinese Judge to the International Court of Justice, Judge Xue Hanqin, was present in the conference. Judge Xue is the highest woman official in China prior to her election to the Court. Previously, she served as chief legal adviser and head of the treaties office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Ambassador to the Netherlands and Asean. She is said to have been groomed to be part of the Central Bureau of China’s People’s Party had she not opted to join the ICJ. While Judge Xue and I have been good friends, having served together in the Executive Council of the Asian Society of International Law for the past 6 years, I knew it would still be awkward to have her listening to my presentation.

But the most unusual thing happened after my 25-minute presentation. Judge Xue, explaining that since she was the only Chinese present in the conference because the Chinese delegates were denied visas by Indian authorities, took the floor for the next 20 minutes and for the first time expounded extensively on the Chinese position on the Philippine arbitral claim. This was unusual because magistrates, be it from domestic or international courts, will normally refuse to comment on an actual dispute, which could come to their court for adjudication. This certainly applies to the West Philippines Sea dispute.

Judge Xue raised four crucial points. Her first was that the Philippine claim involved territorial claims which is outside the purview of UNCLOS. She added though that “since the end of World War II, the international community, has acknowledged the existence of China’s nine-dash lines with no country ever questioning it until oil resources were discovered in the area.” Without expounding on the nature of the lines, she claimed that it is “not considered as a boundary line” and they “have not affected international navigation in the area.” She claimed that there was “”no international law applied in this regard to the region.”

Second, Judge Xue argued that 40 countries, including China, made declarations to the dispute settlement procedure of the UNCLOS. According to her, this means “these 40 states have not accepted the dispute settlement of the Convention as being compulsory”. She said that “when countries joined UNCLOS I, they are not deemed to have given up all their previous territorial claims.”

Third, she said that as China’s first Ambassador to Asean, she knows that the countries of Asean and China have agreed to a code of conduct relating to the South China Sea. Under this code, disputes must be resolved through negotiations and not through arbitration. She claimed that this obligation was “a substantive obligation binding on all claimant state.”

Fourth, Judge Xue explained that China opted out of the arbitration because “no country can fail to see the design” of the Philippine claim which she described as having “mixed up jurisdiction with the merits.”

She opined that the Philippines’ resort to arbitration complicated what she described as an “impressive process between Asean and China”. What the Philippine did “was to begin with the “complicated part of the South China Sea dispute” rather then with easier ones such as “disaster management.” This later pronouncement all but confirmed that the very limited humanitarian assistance extended to the Philippines by China in the aftermath of Yolanda was because of the Philippine resort to arbitration.

Judge Xue ended her intervention by exhorting the Philippines to consider joint use of the disputed waters, a matter that according to her has been successfully resorted to by China and Vietnam.

While Judge Xue’s intervention made our panel, without a doubt, the most memorable exchange in the conference, her declarations provided us with many answers that China has refused to give us.

We have Judge Xue to thank for this.

Judge Xue asked that I post this disclaimer: “Judge Xue Hanqin wishes to reiterate that she participated in the 4th Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law held in New Delhi from 14-16 November 2013 in her personal capacity as a member of the said Society and her remarks in response to Professor Harry Roques presentation at the panel discussion on the South China Sea are solely of her own and do not represent in any way the official position ofChina on the issue. She also wishes to point out that her remarks are not fully and accurately reflected in Blog articles.”

Ampatuan victims open to negotiated settlement due to delay in trial

Story from Vera Files and Yahoo Philippines


TIRED of the slow pace of justice, relatives of 14 of the 58 fatalities in the November 2009 Ampatuan massacre had signed an agreement with an “emissary” of the accused to negotiate the settlement of the murder case for P50 million.

But no settlement has been reached to date: The “emissary,” identified as Jun Chan, was killed in an ambush en route to his farm in Barangay Sulit in General Santos City a month after the agreement was signed.

The agreement with Chan was reached the third week of February, and Chan was killed on March 25. But the proposed settlement surfaced only recently when an heir of one of the victims decided to provide the details to highlight how precarious their situation is—financially and security-wise—as victims living in Mindanao.

Lawyer Harry Roque confirmed in radio interviews that four of the 14 heirs who signed the agreement with Chan are his clients.

The source, who attended the two meetings with Chan but ended up not signing the agreement, said the meetings were held in a mosque in General Santos on the second and third weeks of February. Chan was accompanied by a man they called “Prof,” but the heirs came without their lawyers, the source said.

In the first meeting, Chan asked the heirs to sign a document authorizing him to negotiate a financial settlement on their behalf in return for 15 percent of the amount. “We said we would not entertain any offer lower than P50 million, and the emissary said he would talk to his principal,” according to the source.

In the second meeting, Chan told the heirs that his principal was amenable to the amount but asked for two affidavits in return, the source said.

One would be an affidavit of desistance. The other would be an affidavit stating that then gubernatorial candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu had promised each journalist P30,000 as payment for accompanying his wife Genalyn to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak to file his certificate of candidacy (COC).

“Akala namin nung una, affidavit of desistance lang OK na, pero sabi nila wala na daw magiging epekto yun sa kaso dahil pwede pa ding mag-prosecute ang gobyerno kahit bumitaw kami (We initially thought that they just wanted an affidavit of desistance, which was all right with us. But they said this would have no effect on the case because government can still prosecute the case),” the source said.

The heirs were asked to state in their affidavit that Mangudadatu promised to pay the victims P5,000 as downpayment and the balance of P25,000 after the COC had been filed, the source added.

Said the source: “Gusto nila na idiin si Toto, na alam nya na ipinapain nya ang buhay ng mga media para makapag-file siya ng COC (They wanted to implicate Mangudadatu by showing that he knew he was putting the journalists’ lives in danger).”

The source also said Chan repeatedly warned them “not to talk to anybody about the negotiations for our own safety.” Hence their silence when he was killed a month later.

At the time, police did not know the motive for killing Chan, who was in a car with his wife. Chan’s wife survived.

Chan had stressed in both meetings that it was in the heirs’ best interest to settle the case because the trial would only linger because the government’s evidence against the accused was weak, the source recalled.

“Kung manalo man daw kami, malaki na daw na makakuha kami ng P5 million (Even if we win, the most we’d get is P5 million),” the source said.

Reacting to the agreement reached between the victims’ heirs and Chan, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines president Rowena Paraan said, “We have an environment that encourages the victims to settle. If the victims feel they will get justice, the temptation to settle will not be there.”

On Monday, the NUJP and the Franciscan Sisters commemorated the 43rd month of the Ampatuan killing with a mass at the St. Joseph’s College in Quezon City.

Lawyer Prima Quinsayas, one of the private prosecutors in the ongoing Ampatuan trial at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, said she heard about the meetings between Chan and the heirs but that “none of (her) clients discussed it with her.”

Roque, said he will ask the United Nations Human Rights Committee to look into government’s failure to accord adequate remedy to the victims under domestic laws and compensation.

The UNHRC has called the Philippine government’s attention on two cases, that of Navy ensign Philip Pestano and Eden Marcellana, both victims of extrajudicial killings.

Roque said the government’s duty to pay compensation to the victims of the Ampatuan killing is “separate and distinct from the civil damages that the court may order the accused to pay to private complainants.”


– See more at:

Centerlaw Press Release : For Immediate Release Expelling Jordanian journalist unconstitutional and violates freedom of the press

What  DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo wants to do with Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani – either out of ignorance or over-enthusiasm – is unacceptable and is  unconstitutional. Roberedo’s order denies every journalist in this country, foreign and local alike, a fundamental human right protected both by the Philippine constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, freedom of the press.

Atyani and his Filipino  crew composed of audio man Ramelito Vela and cameraman Rolando Letrero went missing in Sulu last week, and were initially feared to have been abducted by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.  Now it turns out they are indeed inside the terror group’s lair somewhere in the jungle fastness of Sulu, but not as captives but to interview one of the group’s commanders.

Secretary Robredo wants the bureau chief for Southeast China of the Al Arabiya TV news network sent home and declared persona non granta for interviewing the Abu Sayyaf without informing the government.  He is also is quick to invoke the Human Security Art against the Jordianian journalist, which move only  confirms our worst fears about the same law: that it may be used to unduly restrict media reportage or commentaries on what should be everyone’s concern.

And given the murky history of terrorist groups in Southern Philippines, including their alleged ties with shady characters in the police and the military, the automatic invocation of the HSA against any media reportage on terrorist activities could well be deployed as a tool to repress any call for public  accountability for any official mischief.

Secretary Rebredo should know that mere press statements issued by government officials warning media about alleged or imagined infractions of the law is prior restraint that casts a chilling effect on free expression.

And since when did journalists need to ask for permission from the government to be allowed to exercise their profession?

In the case of Chavez v. Gonzales (G.R. No. 168338, Feb. 15, 2008), the High Court addressed the unconstitutionality of press statements issued by a top official of government warning media of criminal consequences, saying that these cannot stand constitutional scrutiny, for the reason that: “[a]ny act done, such as a speech uttered, for and on behalf of the government in an official capacity is covered by the rule on prior restraint.”

Perhaps, he needs some reminding that this case arose from warnings issued by the then Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales and the National Telecommunications Commission against the airing of the “Helllo Garci” tapes. Gonzales threatened to prosecute any media entity that did so.

And the Supreme Court stamped its foot down on it: “in resolving this issue, we hold that it  is  not  decisive that the press statements made by [government officials] were not reduced in or followed up with formal orders or circulars. It is sufficient that the press statements were made by [them] while in the exercise of their official functions. Undoubtedly, Defendant Gonzales made his statements as Secretary of Justice, while the NTC issued its statement as the regulatory body of media.”

As a supposed advocate and icon of good governance, Secretary Robredo should know that free expression is good governance.

It is good governance because allowance for free expression on the public interest empowers citizens; it grants citizens information and opinion on questions that concern the commonweal, and in many circumstances, exposes official wrongdoing that otherwise would have been whitewashed by “praise releases.”            -30-

ZALDY’S PLOY AND THE WPP: Lifetime in a safehouse

The last time I engaged a sitting Cabinet member into a word war, that is prior to this recent one, was when Justice Secretary Alberto Agra absolved Zaldy Ampatuan from liability in the Maguindanao massacre case. Prior to the Agra order of dismissal, there was unusual tension between the public prosecutors and us. I did not pay too much to the tension because I thought it was normal for bureaucrats to please their superior. Even colleagues in the ranks of the private prosecution went out of their way to please Agra. Nena Santos, on the Friday before the Sunday when Agra absolved Zaldy, went to Padre Faura with 26 of her clients, and pledged their full support and confidence to the then Secretary. But when d-day came, it was the public prosecutors that walked out first followed by Nena, the latter even claiming that huge amounts of money were involved in the decision. Vindication, I thought. To think, just days prior to the issuance of the order of dismissal, I was classified by both public and private prosecutors as their biggest headache. I hope to be equally vindicated in my most recent tussle with 2 Cabinet members.My belligerence then had good basis. Days after the November 23 massacre, we all saw the police, even aided by a back hoe, was contaminating a crime scene where no less than 58 victims were murdered in the most gruesome manner. We knew then too that the suspects were very well connected. As Lintang Bedol is now confirming, PGMA and Miguel Zubiri owe their election into public office not to the people who gave them a political mandate, but to the cheating machinery of the Ampatuans. Add to that the fact that the dreaded clan was an acknowledged ally of the state in the fight against Muslim insurgents, what you have is a sure recipe for impunity where government proved to be eager to white wash the investigation of the case. The 300 million that witness Lakmudin Saliao claimed the family distributed for this purpose, certainly came in handy.

If at all, we participated in the prosecution of the Maguindanao massacre fully aware that those in power then wanted a proceeding that would absolve a valuable political ally. We participated nonetheless hoping that with elections just around the comer, hope was forthcoming since PGMA, lest there be a failure of elections courtesy of SMARTMATIC, was disqualified to seek another term. And yes, change did take place with the unprecedented election victory of P Noy.

Then last week happened. On Monday,, two network stations broadcasted their earlier taped interviews with former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan. Among others, he claimed that he has information that could convict his kin in the massacre. Meanwhile he maintained that he had no participation either in the planning or the execution of the massacre. His lawyer, Atty. Redempto Villanueva, on Tuesday, claimed in a TV talk show that his client wanted witness protection. Also on Tuesday, I was listening to the radio on my way to the Department of Justice when I heard DILG Secretary Robredo holding a press conference. He declared, “we should listen to what former ARMM Governor has to say”. Edwin Lacierda would later declare that the “doors of Malacañang is open to Zaldy”. Robredo would later admit linking Zaldy with the President.

Later in the evening of Tuesday, Lintang Bedol would also be interviewed on television. He claimed what we have known all along, especially those of us who filed three impeachment complaints against PGMA, that there was massive cheating in Maguindanao in the 2004 and 2007 elections. He called PGMA a “fake president” and alleged that Senator Migs Zubiri has no popular mandate. He narrated how the former First Gentleman ordered that the votes of PNoy, Ping Lacson, and Allan Peter Cayetano should be shaved in Maguindanao. In the interview, Atty. Krisitine Esguerra, counsel of Zaldy Ampatuan. was captured by the camera. This is proof that Zaldy arranged for the interview.

In my mind, it was clear: these interviews were meticulously arranged, scripted, as in fact, their broadcast was embargoed for two weeks, and all formed part of Zaldy’s plan.

Zaldy clearly wanted to be admitted into the Witness Protection Program for the murder cases. But when the door to this possibility was shut by the President himself, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima then declared that he could still qualify as a state witness for other crimes, such as for election sabotage.

Alarm bells rang. I had personal experience on how the WPP works. In the case of Boomar, our star witness in the murder case of Dr. Gerry Ortega of Palawan. A person admitted into the WPP shall have the right to “secure housing facility” until the threat to his life should have ceased. This means that Zaldy’s admission into the WPP for election sabotage, even in the event he is convicted in the murder case, would mean that he will never spend time in Muntinlupa for the 58 counts of murder. He would instead be in the custody of the WPP in that “secure housing facility”. Because of limitations in government resources, Zaldy himself could provide for his housing. Conceivably, by testifying on election sabotage and the plunder cases against his own family, Zaldy could spend the rest of his life in one of their many mansions secured by operatives from the WPP and drawing an allowance from the state for the rest of his life.

Brilliant ploy.

CCM’s Response to Lacierda and Leah Navarro

The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM)  condemns in the  strongest possible terms the brazen meddling of Secretaries Edwin Lacierda and Jessie Robredo in the conduct of the Ampatuan massacre trial.

Lacierda and Robredo have not only usurped the powers of the Secretary of  Justice, they even had  the temerity to  contradict the DOJ Secretary on  a pending case that is  within the sole executive jurisdiction of the  DOJ.

The  DOJ Secretary and the  public and private prosecutors have been toiling everyday in the  Ampatuan cases for   almost  two years  now. They are the ones who  attend the trial,  listen to the witnesses, and view and assess all the pieces of evidence.  It is  them who can best assess whether  there is  worth, scheme, or guile  in the offer of Zaldy Ampatuan to turn state witness, and not  Lacierda and  Robredo.

It  was  the height of irresponsibility, a    very serious disservice to the President, and a shameless affront to the families of the  58 massacre victims  when  Lacierda  and Robredo brushed aside the DOJ Secretary and the prosecutors  and  facilitated  Zaldy Ampatuan to have access to the  President.

The  families of  the  58 victims  live in constant fear  for their lives in Mindanao even with Zaldy, Andal Sr., and Andal Jr.   in  jail. They know that the terror  network of the Ampatuans  remain intact.   Atty. Harry Roque has, at numerous times,   narrated  how his clients constantly  cower  in fear  because   strangers case  their  houses  asking  questions about them in their neighborhoods.

And here comes  Lacierda  and Robredo  advocating that the President  consider letting  Zaldy Ampatuan lose. Do Lacierda and Robredo even   think  about the security of the  families of the 58 victims in their  meddling move  to even consider  letting Zaldy Ampatuan  go free?  If the  families of the 58 victims  cower in fear now  when  Zaldy is in jail, how much more if  Zaldy is allowed  to  go free?

What  message  are Lacierda and Robredo sending to the  58  victim-families?  That the lives and security of the 50 victim-families are  expendable and tradeable?

And what about the witnesses who have testified or are  set to testify on the participation of  Zaldy Ampatuan in the massacre?  What  message   have Lacierda and Robredo   sent   to these crucial witnesses now?   Lacierda and Robredo have  virtually  put fear in the hearts of these  very crucial witnesses   because  this Zaldy Ampatuan whom they are  going to implicate  in the  crime of the century has the ears of the President, has  allies within the  President’s circles,   and that he  can go scot free because he has  tradeable information to barter for his  freedom.  These  witnesses  will now think  ten times whether to continue to testify against Zaldy,  or withdraw altogether as witnesses  or censor Zaldy out of their testimonies  for fear of  retribution if Zaldy is allowed to go scot free.

We  also strongly deplore the misinformation and  character  assassination  made  by Leah Navarro and  the Black and White Movement on one of or own,  Atty. Harry Roque.

Leah Navarro  criticizes Atty. Roque  for  supposedly “having a belligerent  attitude to the DOJ”  but omitting to mention that  such comment was  made  when Gloria Arroyo was still in power and  the  DOJ head was Secretary Agra  who   was the  first to make an attempt to  clear  Zaldy Ampatuan  of  criminal  liability. To have a  belligerent attitude  towards the GMA controlled  DOJ  at that time was a  courageous act and constitutes a badge of honor.

It is Leah  Navarro  and the Black and White Movement who must account for their gross  irresponsibility.  Having  taken over the reigns of power now, with all the  machinery and resources  to uncover  all the crimes committed  by the previous   administration at their disposal, all they  can come up with is a  plan to  trade the lives and  safety of the 58 families in exchange  for the crocodile tears of an Ampatuan.

It is  Leah Navarro and the Black and White Movement who have a belligerent attitude towards the families of the 58 victims. It is they  who are “in synch”  with Zaldy Ampatuan.  It is they who must account for their act of betrayal.