Does Sara Duterte’s opinion matter on ICC cooperation?

Dec. 05, 2023
Photo from Inday Sara Duterte Facebook page

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Vice President Sara Duterte made a position paper on why the government should not cooperate with the International Criminal Court, but this raises questions if she is speaking objectively, as her father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, is subject to the international body’s probe.

The ICC continues to haunt the Dutertes, which is probing the past administration for its campaign on illegal drugs that have resulted in extrajudicial killings of suspects.

Probe on EJKs

President Duterte withdrew the country’s membership from the ICC in 2019, but this does not prevent the ICC from its probe on the killings that happened during the time when the Philippines was a member of the body.

The ICC is the world’s permanent court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, which has prosecuted leaders for abuses when its courts are unable or unwilling. The Philippines joined the ICC in 2011. 

The international court is investigating the deaths of around 6,000 to 20,000 people who were killed during anti-drug operations.

The ICC suspended its probe in 2019 after the government appealed that it would investigate police officers over their involvement in the killing of suspects. But on January 2023, the ICC said it would resume its investigation and rejected the government’s appeal.

The Marcos administration has softened its firm stance on not rejoining the ICC after the House of Representatives majority filed a resolution last week urging cooperation with the ICC. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said this proposal is “under study.”

Vice President Duterte differs on this matter, and on Friday, December 1, has reportedly submitted her position letter to the Department of Justice.

DOJ spokesperson Mico Clavano told media that the vice president’s letter presented “very valid” arguments against cooperating with the ICC.

“Just for the record, (the vice president’s arguments are) very valid. (Such as) jurisdiction, … complimentary issues, the mechanisms by which we will hold people accountable. For example, the rules of evidence, (which are different from) the rules of evidence (here), rules of evidence ng ICC. Rules on appeals are also different. (We have) double jeopardy, (but the ICC don’t have) double jeopardy,” Clavano said.

Personal is political

However, critics have raised issues about Sara Duterte involving herself in this issue.

“This opposition is not just a political stance but also a familial one, intertwining personal and public interests. This situation raises questions about the potential conflict of interest, as her position may be perceived as influenced by familial ties rather than objective assessment of the nation’s needs and international obligations,” writes Marvin B. Aceron, publisher of San Anselmo Publications in his occasional opinion posts on his publishing page.

The publisher even went on to say that in this situation, Sara Duterte has to resign as education secretary to avoid conflict of interest.

“Resignation in this case would not be an admission of wrongdoing but rather an acknowledgment of the complex interplay between personal beliefs and public duty. By stepping down, the Secretary could freely express her opposition without the constraints of her official capacity, thereby maintaining the integrity of her office,” Aceron explained.

The publisher noted that Sara Duterte is even facing a credibility issue on the P125 million in confidential funds.

For former Senator and justice secretary Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of Duterte’s war on drugs, Sara Duterte “has no business” submitting a legal opinion as education secretary, and is the “least objective” to give such an opinion.

“As a member of the cabinet, the ICC matter has nothing to do with the DepEd…. In her capacity as VP, she is not a member of the Cabinet, and therefore has no role whatsoever in shaping foreign policy at the Cabinet level,” she said in a posted statement on Facebook.

De Lima said if Sara presented her opinion as vice president, this creates an impression of opposing the president on the matter with the ICC.

“She is accomplishing precisely the very opposite of her admonition that we should respect the President’s position, by preempting the finality of said position even when she has no authority to do so,” she said.

The former senator added that Sara’s position puts pressure on Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.

“The DOJ Secretary does not answer to the VP, but by giving the DOJ a piece of her mind, Sec. Remulla is hard put to ignore her submission, even if this is legally untenable or inconsistent with the administration’s own position, by virtue of the formal rank of the VP even if she has no official capacity to help render legal opinions on foreign policy,” she said.

De Lima pointed out that even Sara is “a potential subject” of the ICC probe for her role as mayor of Davao City from 2010 to 2013 which is covered by the jurisdiction of the ICC.

The DOJ said that aside from the vice president’s position, it is looking at other sides of this issue, more particularly with the victims of extrajudicial killings.

“In all this discussion, let us not forget that the goal is to attain justice for victims of extra-judicial killings. Plain and simple,” Clavano said. (

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