PH vs China 2.0
A “futile exercise” is how presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo described the case lodged by two Filipino citizens against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court (ICC), the court mandated through the Rome Statute to fight against global impunity, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Panelo and his principal, President Duterte, sounded more concerned that this new case would not affect relations with China, and forthwith predicted it would be dismissed, as China is not a member of the ICC and the Philippines had withdrawn its membership effective March 17.
“They are entitled to file the case, and I will say there is no jurisdiction of this country and of China, even more so with China,” Mr. Duterte said.
But many others are lauding the case filed by former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
Certainly no pushovers, Del Rosario and Morales’ communication asks the ICC to hold China accountable for “atrocious actions” in the South China Sea that have brought about the “most massive, near permanent and devastating destruction of the environment in humanity’s history.”
China’s systematic plan to take over the disputed waters, they said, has deprived Filipino fishermen of their livelihood even within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and could bring about a fisheries collapse and serious food shortage among other countries also claiming parts of the South China Sea. These, they said, constitute crimes against humanity that are within the jurisdiction of the ICC.
It remains to be seen whether the ICC will take up the novel test case, and China is by no means going to be rattled by it. Yet the Del Rosario-Morales case may already score on moral grounds, as it further emphasizes China’s image as an Asian bully and the Duterte administration’s spineless handling of Beijing’s repeated violations of Philippine sovereignty and interests.
Consider this case as PH vs China 2.0 — another venue to reinforce the Philippines’ major victory against China when it won its international arbitration case in 2016.
It’s no coincidence that Del Rosario is at the center of this new case; he was the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs when the Philippines filed and won that case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The legal team included another Carpio—Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Supreme Court.
The hard-fought victory would have been a bonus for the Duterte administration, which took power just two weeks before the ruling was handed down. But Mr. Duterte quickly set aside the Philippines’ important legal victory and veered toward China.
Still, the new case derives strength from the 2016 ruling, which unequivocably ruled that China’s actions in the South China Sea were unlawful. It will be hard put for the ICC to ignore that judgment.
The Del Rosario-Morales case also cited the Duterte administration’s defeatist attitude toward China as a ground for the ICC’s intervention. There has been no case against Xi and other officials to account for their intrusions, they said, and Mr. Duterte “has repeatedly and publicly declared his deferential attitude” toward Xi and China, even publicly declaring his “love” for Xi.
Yet the Philippines continues to suffer from Mr. Duterte’s acquiescence to Beijing. Since 2016, numerous instances have been recorded of Filipino fishermen barred from fishing in their own territory.
In April 2017, the Chinese coast guard fired warning shots at Filipino fishermen from Union Bank, just 230 kilometers west of the Philippine coast; in June 2018, they went further, seizing the fishermen’s catch; in November 2018, the Chinese drove away a GMA 7 crew from Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
And on Feb. 5, 2018, the Inquirer published exclusive photos showing that China was almost done putting up military bases on seven reefs claimed by the Philippines. No diplomatic protests were ever made about these incidents.
The ICC communication is not expected to alter Mr. Duterte’s love affair with China in any way. But the Del Rosario-Morales case plants the flag of principle for Philippine sovereignty and dignity — and, in the current climate, that show of defiance and will by Filipino citizens to underline the inaction of their Beijing-infatuated government is an inspiring, encouraging development.
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