Pros and cons of rejoining ICC: In the end, it’s about justice

PRESIDENT FERDINAND Marcos Jr., in a seeming reversal of an earlier statement that the Philippines will not rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC), announced during a media interview on November 25 that rejoining is now “under study,” but also noted that “there are still problems in terms of jurisdiction and sovereignty” of the organization. This came after more lawmakers filed resolutions urging his administration to cooperate with the ICC in its investigations into the extrajudicial killings during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.

According to media reports, the House committees on human rights and justice adopted separate resolutions urging the government to work with the ICC investigation. Legislators also sought to forge a concurrent resolution with the Senate; opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros earlier filed a similar resolution.

Hontiveros, in an interview with Karen Davila on ANC, commended Marcos’s consideration to rejoin the ICC, saying it will “benefit him as president of all the Filipino people.” The senator said there is a public clamor to do so.

Another senator, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, supported this idea and the need to ensure that the country will not be at a disadvantage. “What the President said is correct, that it should be carefully studied, because we have entered into treaties where we are the ones who always pay and we are the ones who suffer,” he said.

Defending Duterte

While some lawmakers welcomed and praised Marcos for his consideration, staunch Duterte allies did not. Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who also served as the Philippine National Police chief at the height of the “war on drugs” by the Duterte administration, admitted that he was hurt when Hontiveros filed the resolution. “Kahit sabihin mo trabaho yan, it’s very personal to me dahil I’m one of the subjects na iimbestigahan. (It may only be work for her, but I take it personal because I would be subjected to investigation),” he said.

This prompted Hontiveros to emphasize that rejoining the ICC and seeking justice for victims of the “war on drugs” are “bigger than any one of us in the Senate.”

Dela Rosa earlier insisted that the decision to rejoin the ICC has to be “concurred by the Senate by a two-thirds vote,” which former Senate president Franklin Drilon refuted, saying “the Philippines can rejoin the ICC without returning to the Senate. The President can rely on the original resolution or ratification, as it remains valid and in effect.” He noted that since Duterte unilaterally withdrew from the international institution, Marcos can also reverse that decision on his own.

To recall, the Philippines transmitted its notice of withdrawal from the ICC in March 2018, but it only took effect in the same month the next year. As recalled by a Rappler report, the country signed the Rome Statute in 2000. Human rights advocates then asked the Supreme Court in 2005 to compel Malacañang to transmit the document to the Senate to get it ratified. In 2011, the country became a member after the Senate ratified the Rome Statute.

Duterte’s daughter, Vice President Sara Duterte, also disapproved of the idea of returning to the ICC, appealing to the justice department to not cooperate with the ICC in its investigation. “We will continue to reach out to DOJ regarding our position on this matter,” she said. “We will lay down the legal basis of our position.”

As reported by GMA News, Philippine Daily Inquirer, CNN Philippines, and Manila Bulletin, Dela Rosa alleged that the move to return to the ICC may have been weaponized against the Dutertes. He offered nothing more than conjecture and the reports did not refer to recent developments affecting the Duterte and Marcos alliance.

As noted in a previous CMFR monitor, the breakup of the Uniteam became visible with the House’s disapproval of Sara’s request for PHP500 million in confidential funds. From Davao, former president Duterte responded, calling the House, led by the president’s cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, “the most rotten institution.”

The ICC issue has opened up another policy rift dividing the UniTeam. President Marcos has joined the side aligned with human rights advocates seeking justice for victims of the drug war. His former allies who helped him win the presidency in 2022 are on the other side, defending Duterte and his officials from the ICC probe.

The principles are clear enough. Champions of human rights have little confidence in the capacity of the Philippine criminal justice system to withstand the political influence and other pressures. Rejoining the ICC is a step toward justice. The media should keep close watch of the ICC process and report accordingly.

Meanwhile, journalists should keep eyes on target to help Filipinos understand the motives and intentions driving President Marcos to change his position as these will necessarily shape the political future of the country.