Slow, deliberate yet High Court delivers

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    RECENT issuances by the 15-member Supreme Court of the Philippines may have been long in coming, but they prove that the High Tribunal is unhurried and deliberate in its work.

    This characteristic of the justices is apparent in the long process of adjudicating the Leni Robredo-Bongbong Marcos election protest in the 2016 vice presidential elections, which was resolved recently in favor of Robredo. A recent decision, too, was that of a case filed by Sen. Leila de Lima questioning the immunity from suit of the President, which was resolved by the SC in favor of President Duterte.

    Another proof of the meticulous and painstaking effort the justices endure to deliver their best judicial performance is their ruling — handed down just last Tuesday — which junks the two main petitions challenging President Duterte’s decision to withdraw the Philippines from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although parties have not yet received their copies of the decision, the Supreme Court’s public information office announced that the petitions were dismissed for being “moot and academic.” The decision also “acknowledged that the President, as primary architect of foreign policy, is subject to the Constitution and existing statute.”

    ‘The presence of a robust and respectable Supreme Court … is one reason the Philippines can stand tall among nations with assurance of a working system of justice in a democracy.’

    Duterte decided to withdraw from the ICC in March, 2018, one month after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said he was opening a preliminary examination on the bloody conduct of Duterte’s war on illegal drugs. This did not sit well with the President, and the nation officially withdrew from the ICC on March 17, 2019, exactly a year after the United Nations Secretary General received the PH’s notification.

    This prompted a group of opposition senators — Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Bam Aquino, Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros and Antonio Trillanes IV — to file their petition against the ICC withdrawal in 2018. This was followed by a second similar petition filed by the Philippine Coalition for the ICC in the same year.

    Solicitor General Jose Calida, defending the government, owned the oral arguments that followed by insisting that the withdrawal from the Rome Statute that created the ICC is the prerogative of the President and a political question that the SC cannot touch. He argued that the Senate concurrence is required only in ratifying a treaty, not in withdrawing from it. Calida added that the withdrawal had become valid and effective through the delivery of a note verbale to the UN Secretary General.

    We note that with the declaration that the petition had become moot, the SC no longer resolved the issues. It is interesting for legal minds and law students to know, however, that part of the decision wherein the High Tribunal reportedly issued “guidance on when a treaty may be unilaterally withdrawn.”

    The presence of a robust and respectable Supreme Court that is independent and able to enforce its rulings which, after all, form part of the laws of the land, is one reason the Philippines can stand tall among nations with assurance of a working system of justice in a democracy.

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