The Philippines and the ICC: The Right Sort of Foreign Intervention

Writing in yesterday’s Manila Standard, columnist Rod Kapunan demonstrates exactly the sort of violent, misplaced nationalism that is the best reason for the Philippines to join the International Criminal Court. If I was writing this for my own blog, I’d probably call Kapunan a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy freak and an uncivilized thug, but since this is for a wider audience, I’ll maintain a little decorum and let Mr. Kapunan speak for himself:

“Once signed by President Aquino, this measure would formalize the devolution of the country’s sovereignty to the European powers to try our leaders and soldiers entrusted with the patriotic duty of keeping the territorial integrity of this country intact.

“That means that any Filipino driven by the zeal to defend the Motherland could end up being held accountable for crimes of genocide, human rights violation, war crimes, and other atrocities that at times are the consequences of intense fighting. As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile would put it, the statute could ‘expose Philippine presidents to all kinds of suits…’”

Excuse me? Genocide, human rights violations, war crimes, and ‘other atrocities’ are assumed to be “the consequences of intense fighting”? And are justifiable if they are “driven by the zeal to defend the Motherland”? Certainly, warfare on any level is an ugly business, but recognizing that, the world has tried to keep armed conflict from going beyond its context – which is why we have concepts like the Geneva Conventions and the ICC. No, these institutions are not perfect, and yes, Mankind in general does a very poor job of following the rules in the heat of battle. But using that as an excuse to not even try to be civilized in “defending the Motherland” – to what small extent that is even possible in armed conflict – is like saying we should ignore laws that make robbery and murder crimes, simply because robberies and murders are still committed.

And Senator Enrile’s protestation (which he formalized by being the only dissenting vote in the Senate against ratification), coming from one who, during his military career, may well have come under the scrutiny of an international body like the ICC makes little sense, considering the dim view people both inside and outside this country have taken towards the human rights records of the last two presidents and, albeit to a bit lesser extent, the current one as well – unless the honorable Senator has good reason to be nervous about parties outside the control of the political sphere of the Philippines taking a hard, objective look at some of the goings-on in this country.

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“There are prognostications that most likely our soldiers will end up being charged, than those roaming rebels once the conflict in Mindanao deteriorates into another full-scale war.

“If that happens, by implication the cause of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front could be interpreted as a just cause. That then would put a heavy international pressure on us to give in to their demand for an independent state just as what happened in Serbia where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the US helped create the state of Kosovo by force, and lately in Sudan where after a long-drawn civil war instigated by them, the Sudanese government had to hold a referendum to legalize the partition of their country.”

There are “prognostications” because Kapunan just made one. If Philippine soldiers are charged, it will be because they did something for which they can be charged; what the “roaming rebels” might be doing, atrocious though it may be, does not justify committing atrocities in response.

As to whether the cause of the “secessionist” MILF is just or not is a matter of opinion, and Kapunan, mini-Imperialist that he appears to be, is entitled to his. Officially, however, the MILF is not demanding an independent state per se, despite the somewhat conflicting signals sent by President Aquino’s secret meeting – on equal terms at a neutral location – with MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ibrahim. Whether that official position is actually true or not, Kapunan is connecting dots that only his hysterically poor grasp of history and international politics can see to draw a conclusion that NATO wants an independent Mindanao, and that Philippine membership in the ICC is somehow the tool they will use to achieve it.

“Although called an international organization, the ICC is far from being one. Except for France, Italy, and Germany and a cluster of tiny European states that had their own history of imperialist conquest in Africa, Latin America and Asia, none of the leading and regional powers like the US, Russia, China, India, Brazil and Argentina are members of the ICC. Not one would recklessly compromise their national sovereignty all for the noble cause of humanity.”

The ICC will have, when Tunisia’s membership takes effect on September 1, 116 member states, and the Philippines will be the 117th. Its President, Song Sang-Hyun, is a Korean; its First Vice-President is from the African nation of Mali, and the Second Vice-President is a German. The current Prosecutor is an Argentine (you got that one wrong, Mr. Kapunan), and the 14 judges represent Costa Rica, Ghana, Finland, Latvia, Great Britain (a tiny European state, eh, Mr. Kapunan?), Brazil (Whoops! Missed again, Mr. Kapunan), Bulgaria, Uganda, France, Kenya, Botswana, Belgium, Italy, and Bolivia. Unless I’m missing something, the ICC certainly seems to be an international organization. And while it is a valid criticism of nations like the US, Russia, China, and India that they are not part of the ICC, and a criticism which Kapunan is not alone in offering, it is a bit disingenuous to complain that ICC membership constitutes unacceptable foreign intervention based on an argument about what other countries are or are not doing.

At this point in his screed Kapunan’s crazy train completely goes off the rails and devolves into a spittle-flecked rant worthy of anything any of the world’s great nutjobs like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Evo Morales, or Robert Mugabe could come up with; really, this guy is punching below his weight writing opinion columns for a second-tier newspaper. It’s probably just as well he’s with the Standard and not a media organization that reaches even more impressionable Filipino minds, because this sort of antagonistic, irrational, and apparently not even basically fact-checked diatribe could do a lot of damage.

Yes, in a very general sense Philippine membership in the ICC does represent a sort of foreign intervention, but it’s the right sort. It signals the willingness of the country to accept and at least try to uphold some international standards, and goes a long way toward dispelling the global skepticism towards the Philippines’ sincerity in improving its human rights record. And even though the acceptance of the ICC treaty was initiated way back in 2002 under his loathed predecessor, the fact that its final ratification and signing will occur on President Aquino’s watch is some credit to him; hopefully, he remembers that it is an actual institution to which the country is now legally bound, and will let the ax fairly fall on his own officials or military officers, should it come to that.

More importantly, ICC membership is an investment in geopolitical capital for the Philippines. The country will be in a much stronger moral position with regard to resolving conflicts such as those with China, or the Moro separatists, or the Communists, and will be in a much better position to ask for support from the international community in solving these problems. And beyond that, maybe – just maybe – some of those doing the fighting in this country, whether they’re with the government or not, will stop and think for a moment whether the atrocity they’re about to commit really is “circumstantial,” as Rod Kapunan would put it, or perhaps is something they may regret having to answer for later.

7 Replies to “The Philippines and the ICC: The Right Sort of Foreign Intervention”

  1. Superb article. Joining a world body requires adopting globally recognized values. It means giving up not one’s own sovereignty, but one’s tendency toward bad behavior. Big egos fight it, for they feel they are losing something personally rather than gaining something for the national community.

  2. With, or without the ICC. The Superpowers impose their wills on weaker nations like us…Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was invaded by the U.S.; without the approval of the U.N. Gen. Noriega’s Panama was also invaded by the U.S., because of the Panama Canal. Serbia was pummeled into submission by U.S. fighter planes, to impose peace. Now, Libya’s Khadafy is defeated by the NATO’s fighter planes…to oust Khadafy…if you are a stumbling block, to these SuperPowers, you have to go; one way or another. They did it on Marcos….they can do it also on the Aquinos…

  3. Our membership might help fix the law and order situation in the country.

    Like I said in my previous article:

    Only when we are prepared to stop turning a blind eye to the culture of impunity in our society can “law and order” truly prevail. If we are not prepared to sacrifice our relationships with our “kamag-anak, kaibigan and kaklase” (KKK) when they commit crimes no matter how small, perhaps it would be best for Filipinos to hire foreign security or police contractors to act as our law enforcement agencies. They might have a better chance of enforcing Philippine law and Filipinos just might live by the rule of law under such a regime.

    To read more:

    Why is it so hard for Filipinos to just obey the law?

  4. Speaking of efficient, look what I found on Wikileaks:

    The “masa” have the numbers, but poverty and lack of education are constraints upon translating this into effective political representation and power. The extent of poverty and poor governance helps explain the enduring appeal of the CPP as well as newer leftist groups. But, as the IPD’s Rocamora noted, “until now, the masa has shown the capacity to bring down a government, but not to build up a government.”

    Far from incriminating, it may appear the Americans have been getting real about us at least in secret.

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