Last Tuesday, I wrote that the Philippines' failure to ratify the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court (ICC) became the subject of dispute at a recent international convention in Makati City to commemorate the ICC's 10th anniversary. Ten years after the gathering in Rome of 160 countries to draft that statute, the Philippine has yet to ratify the treaty. To date, only 108 member-states have ratified it, with Cambodia as the only country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to have formally joined the ICC.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the Philippine Coalition for the ICC, co-chaired by former representative Loretta Rosales of the Akbayan party-list group, speculated that one reason for the Philippines' inaction is that it's simply following the United States, which has consistently refused to join the ICC after it withdrew its signature in 2002.
The popular thinking is that since US armed forces are spread in various countries in its global war against terrorism, some of its personnel are bound to run afoul of the law and could come under the ICC's jurisdiction if the US were a member. The Philippines' move, IBP national president Feliciano Bautista asserted, is dictated "more by politics and power alignments than by a true intent and desire to join the international community in the prosecution of crimes against humanity." Critics say that the Philippines does not have to follow the US since we are a sovereign nation.
Rosales opined that the Philippines' inaction could make it a haven for international terrorists. The Coalition for the ICC challenged the Philippines' inaction before the Supreme Court in March 2003, but the Court threw out the petition, saying the Executive Branch has the prerogative to make that decision.
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Foreign Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin, who led the Philippine delegation to the Rome negotiations, asserted that the country is making a thorough review of Philippine penal laws "since key provisions of the ICC constitute a marked departure from existing [Philippine] laws." Ebdalin said it was imperative for the Philippines to "specifically criminalize" torture and enforced and involuntary disappearances, crimes specifically mentioned in the Rome Statute. Right now the ICC issue is being studied by the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), he added. This should have been justification enough for the eight-year delay, but Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor had to unnecessarily throw in the silly argument that since 72 percent of the world's population is still outside the ICC's jurisdiction, the Philippines need not hurry to ratify the treaty.
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Cecilia Rachel Quisumbing, former executive director of the PHRC and newly appointed member of the Commission on Human Rights, on the other hand, denied allegations of Washington pressure on the Philippines. She said the latest indication of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration's firm commitment to human rights was its recent ratification of the eighth "core instrument," the Rights of the Disabled. The challenge to the government and the people is "how to fight for human rights without politicizing the issue," she said. What's needed, she added, is to strengthen the ICC's "filtering mechanism" to prevent perceptions of politicization, but the fact that only 20 percent of cases filed before it prospered shows the mechanism exists.
Speaking for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Inspector General Ferdinand M. Bocobo expressed concern that the ICC might serve as convenient venue for filing politically motivated charges against the AFP. He batted for checks and balances in prosecution procedures. But he said that ratification of the Rome Statute would be a "positive step." He also said the AFP was continuing its efforts to strengthen respect for human rights by including human rights courses in the curriculum and the creation of the AFP Human Rights Office in February 2007, adding that the AFP "would rather prosecute than persecute." His report so impressed ICC registrar Silvana Arbia that she opined that "all armies in the world should follow the AFP's example in human rights."
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The conference brought out the strengths and weaknesses of the ICC, increasing the pressure on the Philippines to join the 108 countries that have sought protection from crimes against humanity, war and aggression. French Ambassador Gerard Chesnel, representing the European Union currently headed by France, pointed out that the EU and its member states remain "committed to promoting the universality of the Rome Statute and protecting its integrity." ICC Pre-Trial Judge Mauro Politi told the Filipino audience, "If you have all the safeguards, you have nothing to fear. You can sign tomorrow."
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Earlier I wrote about how Vicky Cuisia, wife of Philamlife president and chief executive Joey Cuisia, gave an example of meaningful celebrations by marking her 60th birthday with a benefit concert for Friends in Art, Gawad Kalinga-Kultura and the Laura Vicuna Foundation. A number of prominent artists joined hands to ensure a beautiful evening: pianists Nena Del Rosario-Villanueva and Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz, cellists Renato Lucas and Antoni Joseph Inacay, violinist Jareena Inacay and tenor George Yang.
Special mention must be made, however, of singer-composer Jose Mari Chan, who rendered love songs he had composed for his wife, the former Mary Anne Ansaldo. Chan loves to annotate his compositions, and before singing one song he said he had composed it for his wife for their 25th wedding anniversary, while on a seven-hour flight from New York to London. His unabashed profession of love for his wife of 38 years made all the ladies in the audience swoon with envy. I happened to be seated beside Carminda de Leon-Regala, a noted pianist herself, and I joked that Jose Mari must have been thinking of his wife so much on that flight that he had no time to check out if the stewardesses were good-looking.
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