Harry Roque

Roque convinced opposition vs him proves he ‘deserves’ Int’l Law Commission post

Bea Cupin
Roque convinced opposition vs him proves he ‘deserves’ Int’l Law Commission post

ILC POST HOPEFUL. Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque during his regular press briefings.

PTV file

The Palace mouthpiece makes a case for himself as the schedule for elections to the prestigious body draws near

In what he called a “statement of truth and gratitude,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque argued that criticism against his bid for a spot in the International Law Commission “actually recognizes why [he deserves] to be a member of the Commission.”

Roque, a lawyer who once fashioned himself as a champion for media freedom and human rights, made the statement on Wednesday, November 10, days after more lawyers said they opposed his nomination to the international law body.

The International Law Commission (ILC) is a United Nations (UN) body that helps in forming rules and legal norms to be adopted by UN member states. Being an ILC member is considered a prestigious post among international law scholars.

Individuals, groups, and even institutions have opposed his bid. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) earlier said Roque is “morally undeserving to be part of this august international legal organ.” His high school alma matter, the University of the Philippines Integrated School, has also opposed his bid for the prestigious post. 

“My candidacy for the International Law Commission is based on my broad expertise and experience as a lawyer, an activist, a teacher, a politician and as a public servant. I can bring to emerging issues of international law a perspective that is principled and practical. I know the laws that must be codified, the gaps where lex ferenda is evolved, the gray areas that are being clarified, and the competing interpretations of different legal traditions that should be reconciled. I also understand the political factors that both limit law and are shaped by law,” he said. 

In the lengthy statement on November 10, Roque defended his role as President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, saying he was “doing [his] job as a public servant of my country and as the spokesman of its democratically-elected President.”

“A public servant, such as a diplomat, lawyer, administrator or spokesman, does not pick and choose what policies he will implement. Policies are made by the people and their elected leaders, and a public servant follows them to the extent permitted by law. Otherwise, democracy and public order would be impossible,” said Roque, a former human rights lawyer. 

He also tried to defend himself from criticism that he was the spokesman of a person being investigated for alleged crimes during his time as president and Davao City mayor by citing international conventions that state everyone deserves to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and that all people “even leaders they dislike” have the right to “a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

The Duterte mouthpiece, however, claimed his critics were “wrong” in saying that he had been undermining international conventions for accountability and conflict resolution and that he was spinning legal concepts  as spokesman.  

“I have resolutely obeyed all institutions and rules for legal accountability. I have continued to do so as a public servant, expressing the views of the government in accordance with domestic and international law. This is not undermining or spinning rules and institutions, rather it is following the law, by advising my principal and executing my job in accordance with law, which includes understanding the contrary viewpoints on how law is interpreted and applied,” said Roque. 

Over 177 Filipino lawyers have signed a petition that was sent to the ILC asking the body not to elect Roque. This is on top of earlier submissions to the ILC. In the latest petition, signatories said Roque “has rationalized extrajudicial killings and tolerated the weaponization of the law against activists, dissenters and the opposition.”

Roque is a former human rights lawyer and lawmaker who was appointed to the Duterte Cabinet in 2017. Since his appointment, he has taken opposite positions on issues that he once championed in his past life as a lawyer to victims of a grisly massacre, a slain Filipina transgender woman, the Philippine press, and Filipino fishermen affected by China’s encroachment. 

In a 2018 piece, journalist Carmela Fonbuena said: “Love him or hate him, Roque is a man you’d probably want on your team. But in November 2017, the champion of small people thought it was time for a change. He became the spokesperson of the country’s most powerful man, President Rodrigo Duterte. Never mind that the President has beliefs contrary to what he fought for throughout the years.”

New ILC members are scheduled to be elected on November 12, with 77th Session of the UN General Assembly beginning on September 14. – Rappler.com

Bea Cupin

Bea is a journalist.