By SIEGFRED ALDOUS LACERNA
A MAJORITY of the vice presidential candidates wanted the Philippines to rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC) and cooperate fully if investigations in the country would be conducted.
President Rodrigo Duterte severed the Philippines’ ties with the ICC in 2018 after then-special prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the preliminary examination of the alleged extrajudicial killings under the President’s war on drug campaign.
Duterte said that the Court attacks his administration by putting him under its jurisdiction.
Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said that the majority of the Senate wants to re enter ICC, emphasizing that they have already filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) to rule on the constitutionality of the President abrogating treaties.
Sotto was referring to the petition filed in 2020 along with senators Ralph Recto, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson, and Richard Gordon when Duterte scrapped the Visiting Forces Agreement. They asked the SC to rule on whether “the concurrence of the Senate is necessary in the abrogation of a treaty.”
He also said that if the ICC wants to conduct investigations in the country, the authorities should let them do it.
“Kung wala tayong tinatago, wala dapat tayong katakutan (If we are not hiding anything, then we should be scared),” Sotto added.
On the other hand, VP bets Carlos Serapio and Dr. Willie Ong echoed the same sentiments.
Ong said that the criminal justice approach in curbing illegal drug use is not the best solution because addiction requires a science-based and public health approach.
“Hindi puwede ‘yung ikukulong tapos pagbalik, magiging adik sila ulit (We cannot jail them and then they’ll just go back in becoming addicts again),” Ong said, emphasizing that there are medicines to cure drug addiction and that the stigma surrounding drug users should be lessened.
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan also affirms participation before the ICC, adding that they have also filed a petition before the SC to stop Duterte’s withdrawal from the ICC, arguing that the President cannot do that without concurrence from the Senate.
This petition was filed by Pangilinan last 2018 along with senators Franklin Drilon, Leila De Lima, and Risa Hontiveros, all of whom belong to the minority bloc with former senators Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes.
However, Manny Lopez was the lone attending VP bet who had his reservations in the cooperation of the country with the ICC.
He said he supports the war on drugs but stressed the need to protect human rights.
“To bring in foreign interference based on their value, perceptions, to actually intervene in the Philippine affair is not a good proposition,” Lopez said.
Former Akbayan Partylist representative Walden Bello also said that he is for the full cooperation of the country in the ICC investigation.
“27,000 EJKs (extrajudicial killings) happened and Duterte cannot escape this,” Bello said.
But he also directly called out Sotto for “rewriting history,” saying that he was an ally of the President until just recently.
Sotto defended himself, saying that being friends with the President does not mean he is already an ally.
Sotto also challenged the figures given by Bello saying that of the 378,000 arrests, more than 6,000 were killed in drug-related operations.
According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), 6,600 persons have been killed since the start of war on drugs and the institution said that the death toll is small compared to the drug personalities arrested.
But according to several human rights groups which include the country’s Commission on Human Rights, the death toll could reach up to 27,000.
Last September 2021, the ICC judges granted Bensouda’s request to investigate the country’s war on drugs campaign but a month after, Karim Khan, the new ICC prosecutor, halted the investigation.
Khan said that the country wrote a deferral request through Eduardo Malaya, the Philippine ambassador to the Netherlands, saying that the Philippines is keen on ensuring the successful prosecution of cases that have been filed against PNP members within its jurisdiction. F