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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

House adopts measures for PH ICC cooperation

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A joint Committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously voted to adopt three resolutions urging the government to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its investigation of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

Before the vote, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra told the committees on justice and on human rights that while the government had no legal duty to cooperate with the ICC, it won’t prevent the agency’s prosecutors from conducting their investigation here.

Guevarra’s statement was a sharp departure from the policy under the Duterte administration, which said ICC prosecutors would be barred from entering the Philippines.

On Wednesday, the House committees on justice and on human rights adopted House Resolutions 1393 filed by Reps. France Castro of ACT Teachers, Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, and Raoul Manuel of Kabataan; 1477 of Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr; and 1482 by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman after more than four hours of discussion.

The joint committee also agreed to the suggestion of Lagman to coordinate with Senator Risa Hontiveros — author of a similar resolution in the Senate — for a concurrent resolution that will express the sense of the entire Congress.

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Abante, chair of the House committee on human rights, said he was hopeful that the decision of the House joint panel may prompt President Marcos to reconsider his position on the ICC probe.

“This resolution is not questioning the credibility of our justice system. We know it’s working. The question is, does the ICC know it’sworking?” Abante added.

This developed as Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio GonzalesJr. responded to Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s claim that the House is weaponizing the ICC cooperation resolutions.

“We respect the opinion of Senator Bato de la Rosa, but we ask forparliamentary courtesy from our esteemed colleague in the Senate,” Gonzales told reporters.

“As the senator very well knows, the House of Representatives is mandated to act on resolutions filed by its members regardless of political affiliations in the same manner that the Senate takes action on measures presented by senators,” Gonzales added.

Testifying before the joint committee, Guevarra, who used to be Duterte’s Justice secretary, said the government would not stop ICC prosecutors from conducting their investigation.

“We will not cooperate, but ICC investigators are free to come and do their job here,” Guevarra said in response to questions by lawmakers.

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Commissioner Fayda M. Dumarpa, on the other hand, said the CHR was “more than willing to coordinate” with the ICC, if it needs its cooperation.

“We are an independent constitutionally created commission for thepromotion and protection of human rights, therefore we may and we’llbe happy to cooperate if the ICC deems fit that they need assistancefrom the [CHR],” Dumarpa said.

Prosecutor Hazel Decena Valdez of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Director Janice Sanchez Rivera of the Department of Foreign Affairs(DFA) said their agencies will defer to the position of President Marcos on the issue.

“I believe, your honor, that we have to defer to the order of ourprincipal. In this instance, it’s the President of the Philippines,” Valdez said.

“Whatever the decision of the President, the [DFA] will support it,” Rivera added.

The Philippine National Police (PNP)—through its Deputy DirectorPBGen. Rodolfo Castil Jr.— said it will “just submit to the position of the President.”

In the initial phase of the hearing, Guevarra stated that the decision to cooperate with the ICC investigation ultimately lies with President Marcos.

“Your resolutions urge the President to cooperate. So the final say ofwhether the government will cooperate will be with the President,” Guevarra said.

“I believe that the matter of whether we should cooperate with the ICCprosecutor is a political decision. And in that respect, the head of the republic, the head of state,” he said.

Meanwhile, Abante insisted that the resolutions urging governmentcooperation with the ICC probe are rooted in principles such as the rule of law, exacting accountability, and ensuring justice for the poor, rather than being centered on personalities.

As the chair of the human rights panel, Abante collaborated with 1-Rider party-list Rep. Ramon Rodrigo Gutierrez to author HR 1477, urging the relevant government agencies to “extend full cooperation” to ICC prosecutor Karim Khan in his investigation of the drug war.

Abante said HR 1477 reflects the country’s commitment to upholding the rule of law, which is a fundamental pillar of democracy.

“By cooperating with the [ICC], even after our withdrawal from the Rome Statute, we demonstrate that no one is above the law, and we are accountable for our actions. This resolution is about principles, not personalities. And the rule of law is a sacrosanct principle,” Abante said.

Acknowledging the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on vulnerable segments, particularly the poor, Abante said cooperationwith the ICC sends a powerful message that “justice is blind and applies to all, irrespective of socioeconomic status.”

Abante said that despite withdrawing from the Rome Statute, cooperating with the ICC for crimes that occurred during membership demonstrates a commitment to global accountability and preventing impunity.

Official records indicate around 6,000 deaths resulting from Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, while human rights groups and the ICC itself suggest the toll may range from 12,000 to 30,000 between 2016 and 2019.

Castro, in a radio interview, said there was no pressure from Speaker Martin Romualdez to tackle the resolutions urging cooperation with the ICC.

President Marcos earlier said the government is studying the option to rejoin the ICC, after the Philippines, at the direction of Duterte, pulled out from it in 2019.

Dela Rosa, meanwhile, said he was happy that he was able to bring his concerns about the ICC in a one-on-one talk with President Marcos Wednesday night.

Dela Rosa, who led the bloody war on drugs as Duterte’s chief of police, declined to offer any specifics about his talk with the President.

Dela Rosa and the other senators were at Malacanang upon the invitation of the President and First Lady Liza Araneta for a “casual” dinner.

Hontiveros, meanwhile, said Vice President Sara Duterte is perfectly capable of weakening herself politically on her own.

In an interview over ANC Headstart, Hontiveros said that Vice President Duterte, also Department of Education (DepEd) secretary, has been doing this to herself.

“But she’s seen as far as the International Criminal Court (ICC) issue is concerned… the people have been making this call for a long time,” she said.

She said the families of the victims of the drug war have been asking for justice.

“So, this is more than politics. It’s really about justice and accountability,” Hontiveros said.

Reacting to the statement of Senator Imee Marcos that the resolution calling for the government to cooperate with the ICC would trigger the bashing of heads, Hontiveros said the only heads being crushed were the victims of extrajudicial killing during the drug war.

The former president and Dela Rosa have been blamed for the extrajudicial killings.

In 2011, when Marcos was still in the Senate, he and 16 other senators voted to ratify the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

Last year, after being elected as president, Marcos said the ICC had no jurisdiction over the Philippines. He seemed to change his position last week, however, when he said the Philippines is studying a possible return to the ICC.

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