ICC case: Political motive hit

Two former government officials who filed a complaint against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity over Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea may have been politically motivated, a Palace official said Monday.

“They may know that China is not a... state-party, [and] the Philippines is also not a state-party, so how [can] the ICC assumes jurisdiction?” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.

Panelo said some observers have said the move might even harden China’s stand on the South China Sea while others point out the ICC doesn’t really have jurisdiction over the case.

Two days before the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC became official, former Foreign Affairs chief Albert Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales accused Xi of crimes against humanity for the top Chinese leader’s actions to gain control of the South China Sea.

In a communication to ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Del Rosario and Morales asked that Xi and other Chinese officials be investigated for crimes against humanity.

“The enclosed communication outlines how President Xi Jinping and other officials of China, in implementing China’s systematic plan to control the South China Sea, have committed crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice,” the two said in a joint statement.

Both Del Rosario and Morales said the “atrocious actions of Chinese officials in the South China Sea and within Philippine territory” constitute crimes against humanity that can be prosecuted by the ICC.

While the Palace said the two former officials have a right to file a case, it said this would be a futile exercise since the ICC has no jurisdiction over China or the Philippines.

“They could be motivated with righteous indignation over the establishment of structures on some parts of the South China Sea which have been ruled to be rightfully belonging to us. To their minds, the establishment of those structures endanger the environment as well as our fishermen,” Panelo said.

“Whether or not the case will prosper is another matter. It could be dismissed because China is not a member of the ICC, [nor] is the Philippines,” he added.

In the same briefing, Panelo also blamed Del Rosario, who was the country’s top diplomat at the time, for not doing anything when China was just starting erecting activities in the contested territories.

He did not offer specifics, however, and did not name the source of his information.

Solicitor General Jose Calida on Monday said the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC will have no negative effect on the country’s justice system.

Calida said the country’s institutions are strong, able to function, investigate and prosecute drug-related cases, with without ICC membership.

The Solicitor General cited data showing that 49, 034 drug-related cases have been filed in various courts as of 2018, while 75, 327 are pending before the public prosecutor’s office.

“The Philippine justice system functions independently with or without membership in the ICC. Hence, the withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute has no effect in our justice system,” Calida said in a statement.

“All these facts show that the government is not unwilling or unable to prosecute these crimes, despite what administration critics say,” he added.

Calida said the decision to withdraw from the ICC was a prerogative of the government.

“As a sovereign state, it is our prerogative to be a party to the Rome Statute or not,” the chief state lawyer said.

Calida said there are laws to protect the Filipinos’ fundamental rights and that Manila remains a party to other human rights treaties.

At the same time, he said the move will not affect foreign aid to the country.

Panelo, meanwhile, said the government will file a diplomatic protest if it is shown that Chinese coast guard have been keeping Filipino fishermen away from Scarborough or Panatag shoals in the West Philippine Sea.

He was reacting to a short documentary released by senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares, showing local fishermen explain how their catch had dropped from 20 tons to only two tons because Chinese ships were driving them away.

“As far as I know, [Chinese] Ambassador Zhao Jianhua told me that the fishermen there are not being harassed. Now if there is a violation, then we will have to go back to them and say, ‘Hey, they say there’s a violation, you better stop it’,” Panelo said.

“The policy is always, ‘You cannot be harassing our fishermen’,” he added.

Beijing and Manila have previously agreed to let fishermen freely navigate the disputed waters except for marine protected areas.

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Topics: Xi Jinping , International Criminal Court , West Philippine Sea , Salvador Panelo
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