President Rodrigo Duterte made it clear to China that his government had nothing to do with the suit filed by former Philippine officials against Chinese leader Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Duterte conveyed this message to Chinese Communist Party's Minister of the International Department Song Tao, who paid a courtesy call on the chief executive in Davao City on Wednesday, according to a press release issued by Malacañang on Thursday.
“However, he said, the Philippines is a democratic country. Therefore, ‘we cannot stop people from just filing cases’,” the Palace said.
The Palace said Duterte and Song also discussed matters of mutual interest such as trade, infrastructure development and the South China Sea dispute.
“If there will be a need of assistance in improving the people's lives, China is willing to help," said Song, adding he is looking forward to Duterte’s attendance to the second Belt and Road Forum in China in April.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales have accused Xi, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and China's Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua of committing crimes against humanity in connection with Beijing's activities to gain control over most of the resource-rich South China Sea.
They said Xi and other officials have been responsible for the marine environment that has suffered destruction and the loss of the fisheries resources in the area due to the creation of artificial islands, militarization, and various other activities.
The communication was filed before the ICC Prosecutor on March 15 - two days before the Philippines' exit from the tribunal.
Under its rules, the court may still act on cases related to the Philippines while the Philippines was a member from November 1, 2011 until March 17, 2019.
But Duterte and Malacañang raised the issue of lack of jurisdiction given that China is not a state party to the Rome Statute—the treaty which created the ICC.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra viewed the communication more as a political action than a legal one.
Panelo also said the ICC cannot hear cases involving environmental damage.
“They [critics] can claim that it was a mistake for the Philippine government to withdraw its membership from the Rome Statute as the ICC can no longer serve as a venue to prosecute President Xi for an alleged commission of crime against humanity,” he said in a statement last week.
“We reiterate, however, that the Philippines under the Duterte administration is engaged in a diplomatic negotiation, through a bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM), over the West Philippine Sea issue.”
Accompanying Song during the courtesy call were Zhao, Chinese Consul General to Davao Li Lin and other officials of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC) Central Committee.
With the President were Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella and other officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs. —KBK, GMA News