Goodbye, ICC

The President’s critics have been jumping all over his decision to withdraw our country from the Rome Statute, effectively withdrawing us from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

VP Leni said the obvious: The decision makes him look bad, in view of threats to charge him before the ICC on the issue of alleged EJKs. Senator Trillanes gloated that any ICC proceedings against Duterte could continue anyway, which is equivalent to saying that nobody can stop you from singing your heart out before an empty hall.

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As usual, though, the truth is much more complicated and presents itself only upon closer scrutiny. It may be helpful to consider the following:

Duterte was fully authorized to withdraw from ICC. The Senate minority leader, Senator Drilon, commendably resisted the temptation to take a cheap shot and admitted that no further action by the Senate is required on Duterte’s decision.

The aversion to Duterte among many officials in the UN and other international bureaucracies is well recorded, the latest one being the comment about his mental health from some Jordanian prince who enjoys the ponderous title of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Despite its formidable name, the ICC is far from being an omniscient court situated somewhere below the heavenly realms. There’s a respectable number of countries who aren’t members of ICC or are planning to withdraw, too, including Israel, Russia and even the United States. At least the first two are silent about or even support Duterte. But not the last one, supposedly our oldest and closest ally.

The ICC is supposed to function as a court of last resort, intervening only when the local courts are unwilling or unable to adjudicate the crime in question. No evidence has been produced that Philippine courts are in that bind.

The last point is something that particularly nettles the President, who to this day thinks and acts not only like the mayor he was, but also like the fiscal and prosecutor he used to be even earlier. It is this: The ICC cannot claim jurisdiction over his person because it failed to publish the required notice of his case in the Official Gazette. This may seem trivial to non-lawyers, but even laymen should be able to appreciate how much mayhem might result if people could just be dragged into court at any time without even being told why.

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At about the same time the President was responding “Dutertively” to the ICC challenge, another judicial contretemps was taking place over at the Justice Department, where a two-man panel of prosecutors voted to drop drug charges against Kerwin Espinosa—the son of slain Albuera mayor Roland Espinosa—as well as equally notorious suspects like Peter Co and Peter Lim, for “lack of evidence.”

Mr. Lim is a Cebu-based businessman and professed kumpare of the President who’s been identified by the PDEA as one of the country’s top five drug lords. He’s the guy whose drug links were investigated by Congress itself way back in 2006. Many years later, two of his employees who testified against him wound up dead.

As for Kerwin Espinosa, he had testified last year before the Senate no less, presumably under oath, that he was, indeed, a drug lord. Surely Senate testimony counts for something? But the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, in its wisdom, decided to exclude that testimony from its rap sheet against Kerwin because he reportedly recanted it during his preliminary investigation.

This time, the President’s friends and not just his critics are up in arms over the decision to drop charges. For that matter, Duterte himself was so furious that he reportedly threatened to replace the suspects in jail with Justice Secretary Aguirre if the suspects got off scot-free.

Presumably properly chastened, Aguirre has ordered the NBI to investigate the prosecutors involved for possible “malfeasance, misfeasance, or non-feasance.” Subject to the NBI’s findings, though, we have a right to wonder:

If the CIDG and the prosecutors turn out to be anything less than 100 percent blameless in this case, what kind of self-confidence—not to mention financial resources--must the drug syndicates be enjoying in order for them to try and pull off a trick like this in an extremely high-visibility case like this?

And if we’re faced with such arrogant self-confidence and huge resources—and now with cocaine from the Mexican cartels starting to flood the country together with Chinese shabu—how much legal leeway do these syndicates and their distribution chains from top to bottom have a right to expect from us?

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I’ll close this column with some positive economic news that should remind us why we ought to care about the success of this administration’s various initiatives.

From the Bangko Sentral, we’re advised that the net inflow of foreign direct investment surged by 21 percent to $10 billion in 2017, the first full year of the Duterte presidency. This is direct investment that creates jobs, as opposed to portfolio investment or “hot money” which actually dropped last year by $205 million.

And from DTI, Secretary Mon Lopez reports that total manufacturing investments were up last year by a whopping 244 percent. Manufacturing investment creates not just any kind of jobs, but jobs in the industries that we sorely need to build, or rebuild, if we want to get on a truly permanent growth track.

Of course Duterte can’t claim all, nor even most, of the credit for this. I doubt that he’d say that anyway, if he were asked. But I think more and more businessmen will agree that his is the presence that makes the difference these days between yes and no, between stop and go, between the green light and the red.

In a democracy and an open economy, that’s really all we have a right to expect from a president.

Readers can write me at [email protected]


Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , ICC , Leni Robredo , Bangko Sentral , Mon Lopez , Kerwin Espinosa , Peter Lim , Senate
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