SC junks de Lima plea to attend oral argument on ICC withdrawal

Detained Senator Leila de Lima could not participate in the oral argument on the petition seeking to invalidate the Philippine government’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Supreme Court (SC) ruled Tuesday.

This was announced by SC Spokesman Theodore Te in a press briefing after the High Court’s en banc session.

The SC has already set the oral arguments on the consolidated petitions seeking to void the Philippine government’s withdrawal from the ICC on August 14.

“The Court (with 10-2 votes) denied petitioner Senator Leila De Lima’s motion to be allowed to ‘appear and personally represent herself’ during the oral argument of this case on 14 August 2018,” Te told reporters during the press briefing.

Ten magistrates voted to junk de Lima’s motion while two voted to grant it.

Te said the justices found “no compelling reason” to grant de Lima’s request.

The Court noted that the senator, who is currently detained at the Philippine National Police-Custodial Center due to illegal drug charges, failed to raise circumstances or competencies exclusive to her that would make her appearance necessary.

The senator is accused of benefitting from the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa during her term as justice secretary.

“Senator De Lima sought clearance from this Court for her appearance in oral arguments, arguing that, while she is barred by Article VI, Section 14 of the 1987 Constitution from appearing as counsel before any court, she intended to appear in this case not as counsel but in her personal capacity as petitioner. She invoked judicial notice of previous instances when legislators were permitted to appear before the Court in their personal capacities as litigants,” Te said.

Under Article VI, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution, no senator or member of the House of Representatives may personally appear as counsel before any court of justice before the Electoral Tribunals or quasi-judicial and other administrative bodies.

“It noted that Senator de Lima’s capacity to appear for herself must yield to the fundamental restrictions on her liberty borne by her current detention and that, in any case, it does not appear that her and her co-petitioners’ cause would be prejudiced by another counsel appearing in her place,” Te announced.

“The Court also pointed out that the subjects of the consolidated petitions are intensely, politically-charged matters. It, thus, exhorted all parties to be tactful and sober and to refrain from any posturing that may detract from a dispassionate, level-headed resolution,” he added.

“The Court expressed the hope that the denial of petitioner de Lima’s plea could allow the Court to proceed to a composed resolution of the ultimate issues.”

The oral arguments will tackle the petition filed by opposition Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, Risa Hontiveros, Antonio Trillanes IV and de Lima – who filed 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 two-third of all the members of the Senate.”

The second petition was filed by the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PCICC) led by former Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales.

The SC has issued guidelines on the oral arguments to four major issues:

* Whether or not it should take cognizance of the petitions;

* Whether or not the withdrawal from the ICC’s Rome Statute through a “note verbale” delivered to the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) is “valid, binding and effectual”;

* Whether or not the withdrawal places the Philippines in breach of its obligations under international law and;

* Whether or not it will diminish the Filipino people’s protection under international law.

In their petition, 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.

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

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

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. PNA