Senator Francis Tolentino has accepted Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s request to be his legal counsel in all proceedings related to the International Criminal Court’s investigation into the Duterte administration’s drug war.
“I accept the letter, the proposal of Senator Dela Rosa to lawyer for him,” Tolentino said in an online interview with reporters on Wednesday.
“My role there would be to ensure the protection of Senator Dela Rosa not just within the confines of the ICC because we are claiming that they don’t have jurisdiction [over us], but even locally,” he explained.
Tolentino said he is now preparing all the documents for his proper accreditation as Dela Rosa’s lawyer “if it will come to that point.”
As Dela Rosa’s legal counsel, Tolentino said they will submit all documents or his client’s testimony if any administrative or quasi-judicial body in the Philippines asks for it.
Tolentino will send a letter to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri to “get an exemption” from the rule that incumbent officials are not allowed to practice their profession.
Dela Rosa, who earlier described himself as the "number two accused" in the drug war probe of the ICC, was then-President Rodrigo Duterte’s first Philippine National Police chief.
Duterte's drug war has been blamed for thousands of deaths, with government figures pegged at around 6,000 but human rights groups say it could reach as high as 30,000.
Tolentino said he can also represent former Duterte if the latter asks him to do so.
Invite for Karim Khan
Meanwhile, Tolentino also disclosed that he will be inviting Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the ICC, to a Senate justice and human rights hearing on the resolutions filed by Senators Robin Padilla and Jinggoy Estrada, seeking to defend Duterte from the international tribunal's investigation and prosecution.
“I’m thinking of having a resource person coming from the ICC itself. Kung papayag sila kahit Zoom sila (It can be done through Zoom if they accept the invite.) I would want to have Mr. Khan explain the reason why they insisted that the pleading filed by the Office of the Solicitor General was not complete, was not conclusive enough,” he said.
He was also considering inviting former President Duterte to participate in the hearing, even via teleconference.
Tolentino said the Senate panel would conduct a hearing in order for the Senate to have a unified stand to defend the former president from the ICC probe.
“There will be a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate because the Senate was the body which ratified, which concurred in this Rome Statute,” he said.
“Bahagi nitong resolution na to malaman talaga kung ano ‘yung gagawin nila kasi whether we like it or not, kasi nga dineny, ni-reject ‘yung suspensive effect ng appeal. Tuloy-tuloy lang ‘yung mga ‘yon. So para maintindihan din nila na kahit magtuloy-tuloy kayo, wala kayong pupuntahan,” he said.
(Part of this resolution is to find out what they will do after they rejected the appeal. We want them to know that even if they proceed, it will lead nowhere.)
Further, Tolentino stated that the ICC must prove that the justice system in the Philippines is not working, tagging this “assumption” as “wrong and misplaced.”
Senator Robin Padilla, another ally of Duterte and incumbent President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., expressed "full support" to the stand of the administration to disengage from the ICC.
"Our President has made it clear: The ICC has no jurisdiction over the Philippines. Our Solicitor General has also said the Philippines has no legal or moral obligation to cooperate with the ICC," Padilla said.
"The ICC seems to be standing on shaky ground. It has no power to force itself on the sovereignty of our motherland, the Philippines," he added.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva admitted being "surprised" by Tolentino's move but said he would study the rules.
“Aralin ko ulit. But as far as I’m concerned, hindi yata puwede yon kasi senador ka. But ‘yung support, siguro I just want to put on record, ‘yung support, overwhelming naman ang support na binibigay ng mga kasama kay Senator Bato,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva also said he sees no problem with Tolentino inviting the ICC on the hearing on the resolutions defending former President Duterte.
He said the Philippines must prove that its justice system is working.
“On our part there is also pressure na magpakitang gilas tayo…na ipakita sa mundo that our justice system works,” he said.
“Katulad nang nangyari kay Kian [delos Santos]. [May] nakasuhan, hindi lang nakasuhan, napakulong ang umabusong pulis. At ito ay nangyayari sa apat na sulok ng Pilipinas na no one is really above the law,” he added.
Recently, the ICC rejected the Philippine government’s appeal seeking the reversal of the international tribunals’ decision to resume the probe into the Duterte administration's controversial war on drugs.
In rejecting the Philippines' appeal, the ICC Appeals Chamber said the government failed to explain the Court's lack of jurisdiction or to provide an explanation of the implications and scope of the investigation.
It also said that the local investigation can proceed even with the ongoing ICC investigation.
On Tuesday, Marcos said the Philippines is ending its involvement in the ICC after its Appeals Chamber rejected the bid to suspend the investigation into the country’s drug war.
Villanueva said he respects Marcos’ latest remark, saying the latter is the chief architect and the country’s representative in foreign or international engagements.
“We respect the prerogative of the president on that matter,” he said.
In February, Marcos said he would not cooperate with the inquiry of the ICC into the abuses in the campaign against illegal drugs of the previous administration. —VAL/VBL, GMA Integrated News