West Philippine Sea

Justice Carpio joins powerhouse ICC complaint vs China

Sofia Tomacruz

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Justice Carpio joins powerhouse ICC complaint vs China

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Former Ambassador Albert Del Rosario along with Former Ombudsman Conchita Morales and Lawyer Chel Diokno are guest speakers at the Stratbase ADR Institute's forum on the third anniversary of the Hague ruling on the South China Sea favoring the Philippine's claim of the disputed islands of the West Philippine Sea. July 12, 2019. Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler


(UPDATED) ‘There are those who think the rule of law in international relations does not apply to great powers. We reject that view,’ says former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario

One of the Philippines’ best legal minds, retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, is bringing his legal expertise to a complaint filed by former Philippine officials against Chinese President Xi Jinping at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario announced the development on Wednesday, September 16, saying Carpio will be involved as his and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ counsel. 

Del Rosario said the powerhouse team will submit an additional communication to the ICC this week. Their communication argues that the international court has jurisdiction over the case that accuses Xi and other Chinese officials of crimes against humanity over environmental damage in the South China Sea.

“We are submitting our response this week to the international prosecutor and I’m glad to announce Justice Tony Carpio has agreed to join our quest for justice as our counsel in this ICC case,” Del Rosario said during a Stratbase ADR forum on Tuesday. 

Carpio – one of the legal luminaries that helped the Philippines win a 2016 Hague ruling against China – is among the country’s staunchest defenders of the West Philippine Sea. 

Del Rosario said Carpio, “a legal luminary with unparalleled wisdom and expertise in the South China Sea” will surely bolster the case filed at the ICC. Carpio and Del Rosario were key officials who took China to court in 2012 over its expansive claims in the West Philippine Sea. 

Where is the case now?

Last December, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda concluded the crimes alleged in Del Rosario and Morales’ case against China “do not fall within the territorial or otherwise personal jurisdiction of the Court” as it did not meet several scenarios where this would be applicable.

Despite this, Del Rosario and Carpio Morales argued their case still had a fighting chance at the international court as the ICC prosecutor welcomed “new facts and evidence” regarding their complaint against China.

On Tuesday, Del Rosario stressed that the ICC has jurisdiction over the case, as crimes “occurred not only in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines, but also within its territorial sea or landmass.”

Among these were China’s reclamation of maritime features in West Philippine Sea, including its island building on Subi Reef, which is within the territorial sea of Pag-asa island. 

The former officials also cite the swarming of Chinese militia vessels around Pag-asa and Chinese officials’ efforts to block Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal, preventing Filipino fishermen, who live along the coast of Luzon, from making a living. 

They also cite a Chinese vessel’s ramming of Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver near Recto Bank last June 2019. While this occurred in the Philippine EEZ, Del Rosario said this falls within ICC jurisdiction since the crime committed was against a Philippine-registered vessel.

Del Rosario said they will be filing new communication with the ICC this week. 

“There are those who think the rule of law in international relations does not apply to great powers. We reject that view. International law is a great equalizer among states. It allows small countries to stand on an equal footing with more power states,” Del Rosario said. 

“Those who think might makes right have it backwards. It’s exactly the opposite in that right makes might,” he added. 

Del Rosario and Morales earlier filed the communication in March 2019, naming Chinese President Xi Jinping as respondent for alleged crimes against humanity in the West Philippine Sea.

The former Philippine officials said they pursued the complaint before the ICC to “check impunity” in the disputed South China Sea.The communication was filed two days before the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC took effect. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.