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Oral arguments on plea vs. PH withdrawal from ICC set July 24

The Supreme Court (SC) set the oral arguments on the petition filed by six senators seeking to declare as invalid the Philippine government's withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 24.

SC spokesman Theodore Te made the announcement after the resumption of the SC en banc from its month-long recess.

Te said the court ordered respondents to comment within a non-extendible period of 10 days from notice and the presentation of oral arguments on July 24 at 2 p.m. at the SC Session Hall.

Senators Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Paolo Benigno Aquino, Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, and Antonio Trillanes IV filed 17-page petition for certiorari and mandamus and said that under Article VII Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution, "entering into treaty or international agreement requires participation of Congress, that is, through concurrence of at least 2/3 of all the members of the Senate.”

“The Executive initiates entry into a treaty or international agreement as the Chief Architect of Foreign Affairs. However, for such treaty or international agreement to be ‘valid and effective’ in the Philippines, the participation of Congress is necessary because such treaty or international agreement becomes a law in the Philippines," the petition read.

Named respondents in the petition were DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, UN Ambassador Teodoro Locsin Jr., and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.

The lawmakers also asked the High Court to compel the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations to notify the United Nations Secretary General that the Philippines is revoking the notice of withdrawal that it received last March 17.

The diplomatic note stated that the “decision to withdraw is the Philippines’ principled stand against those who politicize and weaponize human rights, even as its independent and well-functioning organs and agencies continue to exercise jurisdiction over complaints, issues, problems and concerns arising from its efforts to protect the people.”

The petitioners said the Rome Statute is a treaty validly entered into by the Philippines that has the same status as a law enacted by Congress.

“The Executive cannot abrogate or repeal a law. In the same vein, the Executive cannot unilaterally withdraw from a treaty or international agreement because such withdrawal is equivalent to a repeal of a law,” they argued.

In withdrawing its membership from the ICC, the petitioners claimed that the respondents committed usurpation of legislative powers, which is punishable under the Revised Penal Code.

The petitioners cited the case of South Africa which had notified the ICC of its intention to withdraw from the treaty.

The move was challenged by opposition figures in South Africa before its High Court which eventually ruled on Feb. 22, 2017 that President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet’s ICC notification of withdrawal was premature, procedurally irrational, and that the government could not make the decision without the approval of Parliament.

“Given that the instrument of withdrawal received by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on March 17, 2018 is inconsistent with the Philippine Constitution, the Honorable Court must order the Executive Department to carry out its cancellation, revocation or withdrawal, similar to the case of South Africa,” the petitioners said.

On March 14, Duterte announced the Philippines’ withdrawal of its ratification of the Rome Statute, a United Nations (UN) treaty creating the ICC.

In the statement, Duterte cited “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks” against him and his administration as the reason for his withdrawal as a state party.

“Given the baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks on my person as well as against my administration, engineered by the officials of the United Nations, as well as the attempt by the International Criminal Court special prosecutor to place my person within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, in violation of due process and the presumption of innocence expressly guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and recognized no less by the Rome Stature, I therefore declare and forthwith give notice, as President of the Republic of the Philippines, that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of the Rome Statute effective immediately,” the President said in a statement.

This came after ICC special prosecutor Fatou Bensouda began a preliminary examination on the alleged human rights violations amid the Duterte administration’s intensified war on drugs.

Christopher Lloyd Caliwan / PNA