The Philippines rejoining the International Criminal Court (ICC) looks far-fetched despite a recommendation made by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the country earlier this week.FILE PHOTO: Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla. (Senate PRIB)

The Philippines rejoining the International Criminal Court (ICC) looks far-fetched despite a recommendation made by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the country earlier this week.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, who led Manila’s delegation to the UNHRC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, said on Friday that such a move must first be discussed with the Senate, which ratifies treaties, and former President Rodrigo Duterte.

It was Duterte who ordered officials to pull the country out of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC.

‘We are not Sudan’

Remulla indicated that it was unlikely that the Philippines would go back. “Because, as far as we are concerned, we are not Sudan, we are not [an] African country in trouble that has no government running the show,” he told reporters after his return from Geneva.

“You always think if [a recommendation is] practical, necessary or beneficial for your country. You do not jump in and say, ‘Oh, we’ll jump in because they say it,” Remulla said.

President Marcos had declared that his administration won’t undo what his predecessor did, adding that whatever human rights investigations being conducted by the international court were already being done by the government.

Remulla admitted that the government had no problem accepting other UNHRC recommendations, because he says these were things “we are doing something about already.”

Not state-sponsored

During the UNHRC review of the government’s human rights record, Remulla said that the alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the drug war, attacks on human rights defenders, lawyers and the media were not state sponsored.

He assured other member countries of the UN body that the alleged EJKs in the war on drugs were being looked into and the Philippine government was “working on it.” He did not specify the actions that had been taken to address the grievances of families of the victims.

The Philippine National Police said more than 6,000 people were killed in Duterte’s drug war. This week, it said that its officers and agents from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency killed 46 more alleged drug offenders since Mr. Marcos took office and continued Duterte’s antidrug campaign.

Many families of the victims have submitted details of the drug war killings to the ICC prosecutor investigating the complaints of crimes against humanity in the murders committed during drug war which were filed against Duterte and other officials of his administration.

Most cited complaints

The Marcos and the Duterte administrations’ refusal to cooperate has slowed the probe.

The ICC insists that it retains jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes committed by state forces that occurred in the country while it was a state party to the statute—from Nov. 1, 2011, to March 16, 2019, when the Philippines officially withdrew.

Remulla said that EJKs and alleged threats to press freedom were the most mentioned complaints against the government.

They were among those covered by 200 recommendations for actions to be taken by the government, which the Philippines accepted, he said.

On press freedom, Remulla, begged to differ from the government’s critics. “I think we have the freest [media] in the world,” he said.

Media killings, violence

The 2021 World Impunity Index, however, ranked the Philippines seventh in the list of countries “where journalists are murdered and perpetrators go free.”

The justice secretary said the other recommendations accepted by the government included combating discrimination and gender-based violence, maintaining a moratorium on the death penalty, expanding access to justice, decongesting prisons, and upholding the rights of persons with disability, indigenous peoples, women, children, refugees and stateless persons.

Periodic review

The UPR, held every four-and-a-half years, is when UN members review each other’s human rights record and abuse of power.

In the interest of fairness and objectivity, Remulla reminded other delegates in the Geneva meeting “to exercise due diligence in the consideration of allegations [of human rights violations] received from various sources.”

The Human Rights Watch said the justice secretary’s statement failed to convince the international community that the human rights situation in the country had improved.

“Governments from at least 35 countries called on the Philippines to put a stop on extrajudicial killings and exact accountability on the perpetrators, particularly on state forces, while 38 countries called on the Philippines to protect … indigenous defenders, lawyers and judges, environmentalists, and journalists,” it said in a statement. “This clearly indicates that the world knows the real situation.”