MANILA – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has shrugged off as “bereft of legal merit” the criticism of a group of human rights lawyers opposing his nomination to be part of a United Nations (UN) expert panel that develops and codifies international law.
This, after the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) wrote to the UN International Law Commission (ILC) in New York to voice their opposition to Roque’s nomination, alleging he “does not possess the qualifications for a seat at the Commission”.
“Wala po kasi desisyon naman ‘yan ng mga estado. Kung pakikinggan sila ng estado, e di wala tayong magagawa (Nothing, because that’s the decision of member states. If member states listen to them, we can’t do anything about it),” Roque said, when asked to react to FLAG’s call for the rejection of his nomination.
Among other reasons, FLAG told to the ILC that Roque’s pronouncements “defending extrajudicial killings and belittling the competence and jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and his cavalier disregard of the effects of domestic violations of human rights” as spokesperson of President Rodrigo Duterte makes him “ill-suited” to become a member of their panel.
Roque, however, said he has not ever shown blatant disrespect for the law and human rights as Duterte’s spokesperson.
“That’s absolutely bereft of legal merit po kasi kung mayroon ‘yun, dapat may kaso na ako (because if I did disrespect them, I should be facing a complaint by now),” he said.
Roque said his job of relaying information regarding issues and concerns related to the President is part of the freedom of information, which is also a human right.
“Naniniwala po ako na karamihan po, kung hindi po talaga malaking porsiyento ng ating mamamayan, ay nakikita naman po na ginagawa natin ng tama ang ating trabaho. FOI po or Freedom of Information ay isang karapatang pantao (I believe that majority, if not a large percent of our people, can see that we are doing our job well. FOI or Freedom of Information is a human right),” he added.
He also said the ILC and ICC were two separate entities.
“Obviously gross ignorance of what the ILC is all about. Hiwalay po ang ILC sa ICC. Wala pong kinalaman ang ILC sa ICC (The ILC is separate from the ICC. The ILC has nothing to do with the ICC),” he said.
He said dozens of countries, including the Philippines, are not members of the ICC, including China, India, Russia, and even the United States (US).
“Kung ang kanilang dahilan ay dahil sa International Criminal Court, hindi po lahat ng bansa ay miyembro ng International Criminal Court. In fact, karamihan po ng boboto, hindi nga po sila miyembro ng International Criminal Court. Minorya po ng miyembro ng general assembly ang mga miyembro ng International Criminal Court (If their reason is because of the International Criminal Court, not all countries are members of the International Criminal Court. In fact, many of those who will vote are not members. Only a minority of members of the general assembly are members of the International Criminal Court,” he added.
Meanwhile, Roque revealed his platform should he be selected as among the 34 members of the ILC.
He said he will push for a treaty on “vaccine equality”, emphasizing that it was “unacceptable” that nearly 85 percent of Covid-19 vaccines have gone to people in high-income countries.
“Kinakailangan po magkaroon tayo ng tratado kung saan ang lahat ng mga bansa sa daigdig ay magko-contribute sa isang pondo on the basis of ability to pay para bumili ng mga bakuna at ang mga bakunang ito naman ay ibibigay sa mga bansa depending on need (There should be a treaty where all countries in the world contribute to a fund on the basis of ability to pay to purchase vaccines and these vaccines will be given to countries depending on need),” he said.
Roque will also pursue efforts to draft a treaty that recognizes ownership or jurisdiction over territories submerged in water as conclusive.
“Ang pangalawa ho nating tratado na sinasabi sa ating plataporma ay isang tratado kung saan kikilanin ng buong daigdig na yung mga teritoryong mawawala dahil po dun sa pagtaas ng ating karagatan dahil po sa global warming, dapat po yung teritoryo na lupa na nagbibigay din ng teritoryo sa ating karagatan ay maging conclusive, hindi na po dapat mabago miski malubog pa ‘yan sa tubig (My second treaty which will be part of my platform will be a treaty in which the whole world will recognize that the territories that are lost due to the rise of our oceans due to global warming will be conclusive. It should not be changed even if it is still submerged in water),” he added.
With his nomination, Roque has a chance of becoming one of eight nationals from Asia-Pacific states to sit for five years in the panel starting Jan 1, 2023.
Roque served as an associate professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, teaching public international law and constitutional law for over 15 years.
He was admitted to practice before the UN War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda in 2004 and was the first Asian admitted to practice before the International Criminal Court. (PNA)