Will Miriam’s genie give her an ICC seat?

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is campaigning to be a judge at the International Criminal Court. Will she work her magic to win the politics and votes for the world body?

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is campaigning to be a judge at the International Criminal Court. Will she work her magic to win the politics and votes for the world body?


MANILA, Philippines — The genie in a bottle has been a running joke of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. In her speeches, the feisty lawmaker brings out her genie and asks it to stop the “fiesta of legal ignorance” that is Senate hearings, and the US envoy’s penchant to talk about sex tourism. The poor genie responds, “I’d rather bring peace to the Middle East,iyan ang kaya ko (that I can do)!”

Joking aside, Santiago has a third wish from her genie: to become a judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Santiago flies to New York Tuesday morning for the second leg of her campaign for the ICC. The senator will meet with ambassadors of state parties to try to win their countries’ votes in December.

“If I am elected, I will be the first from Southeast Asia [there],” she told reporters. “We want a Filipino to sit in the ICC.”

The question is: will the genie (and the diplomats) grant her deepest, most desired wish?

The court of last resort

Santiago is vying to be part of the tribunal in charge of the most serious international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. For instance, the ICC has a standing warrant of arrest on the son of slain Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam, and his former intelligence chief for allegedly torturing and killing civilians and rebels.

Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the ICC is independent of the United Nations system. It was launched in 2002 on the basis of a treaty called the Rome Statute, which the Philippines just ratified in August 2011.

In a lecture at the University of the Philippines on Oct. 21, Friday, Santiago explained that the ICC is called the court of last resort as it will act only when a state is unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute a case.

Kaya maling-mali ang pinagtatanong sa akin sa Senado kasi hindi sila marunong magbasa. Bakit tatanungin ako (That’s why the questions they ask me in the Senate are wrong because they don’t know how to read. Why will they ask), ‘Aren’t you concerned that ordinary Filipino soldiers and policemen will be brought to trial in the Hague, in the International Criminal Court?'” And I had to answer that question seriously. Ang gusto ko talagang sagutin (What I want to say is), ‘How about I just smash your teeth in?'”

Santiago added that the ICC does not prosecute states but individuals. “Prosecution will be limited only to those who are holding the highest government offices, for example, the president in our country, the members of the legislature. Doesn’t that fill you with anticipation?”

Is second time the charm?

Santiago brings to her campaign decades of experience as a legislator, scholar of international law, cabinet member, and regional trial court judge. She hopes to fill one of six vacancies in the ICC after the 119 state parties vote in New York this December.

She is up against 18 other candidates, which include a fellow Asian and another female bet. The senator is confident she has a fighting chance because the Rome Statute requires equitable geographical and gender representation.

Santiago also believes her second campaign to be judge of an international body will be easier than her failed bid for the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2008.

In a press conference two weeks ago, she said she won in the first level of the ICJ elections but lost in the second, where voting was done at the UN Security Council. “That is no longer the case because with the ICC, there’s voting only on one level. So one state only has one vote, unlike the UN voting where a state may have two votes if it is a member of the Security Council.”

Santiago added, “I think I will have better chances because most of the developing countries are with us since we belong to that group, especially the smaller countries that have just become members.” 

Gaffes, realpolitik and diplomats’ lies

It was not just the Philippines’ status as a developing nation that became an obstacle to Santiago’s ICJ campaign. A Newsbreak report quoted political observers as saying that her statements that China “invented corruption” during a probe into the botched NBN-ZTE deal, and her recommendation to renegotiate the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement might have worked against her.

While China and the US (whose ambassador she criticized) are not state parties to the ICC, Santiago will still have to contend with realpolitik, international style. In an article on the Huffington Post, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described how politicized jockeying for ICC jobs has been. 

“Too often, candidates for senior posts at international organizations conduct elaborate election campaigns in conjunction with their governments,” wrote Annan.” “It leads to vote-trading in a type of global bazaar: one country promises support for another country’s candidature in exchange for the latter’s support for one of its own candidatures for a different post. Merit often becomes a secondary consideration.”

Aside from the quid pro quo, there is another rule in the game. Santiago has visited The Hague to woo ambassadors but she said a pledge is no assurance of a vote. “Some diplomats tell lies. They say one thing, and do another.” 

Senator or ICC judge?

If her campaign proves successful, Santiago will serve in the ICC for nine years, cutting short her term in the Senate which ends in 2016.

As if torn, the lawmaker who is active on social media opened a poll on her blog: “Where do you want Miriam, in the Senate or in the ICC?” As of posting time, more Internet users (53% or 871 votes) do not want the senator to go while the rest (47% or 781 votes) think she should represent the Philippines as an ICC judge.

Whatever the final verdict of the state parties and netizens may be, Santiago is already envisioning life as an ICC judge. “I’ll have to resign [as senator]. Isn’t that good news for my enemies? I would have to live in The Hague. I will look like a European and speak like a European and I will be as snooty as a European when I come back.”

With the daunting campaign and voting process, Santiago and her genie will have to work their magic to ensure that her wish is granted, Middle East peace or not.