Why Miriam can't resign from Senate yet

Posted at 07/04/12 5:30 PM

MANILA, Philippines –  Illness, duty and the International Criminal Court’s own rules have led to Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago's continued stay in the Senate.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Wednesday said she is not quitting her post until the International Criminal Court (ICC) calls her to duty.

In a letter to Commission on Elections (Comelec) chief Sixto Brillantes, Santiago said she is unable to determine the date of her resignation and assumption to her ICC seat, because of a provision in the ICC Charter. 

The ICC Charter, also known as the Rome Statute, provides that any incumbent judge shall not be allowed to retire, until he finishes any trial where he participated.         

“Of course, I will not resign from the Senate, until the ICC calls me to duty.  Hence, I respectfully submit that even only out of prudence, the 2013 ballot should list only 12 vacancies for senators,” she said in her letter.

Santiago was overwhelmingly elected to the ICC in elections held by the Assembly of States Parties in 12 December 2011, in New York.  She is the first Filipino and first Asian from a developing country to sit in the ICC, which tries cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

In her letter, Santiago explained that a newly-elected ICC judge has to wait until an incumbent Judge has disposed of all his pending trials, even if the tenure extends beyond the retirement date of the incumbent. 

“In other words, a Judge assigned to a Trial or Appeals Chamber continues in office in order to complete the trial or appeal, even after the expiry of his or her term.  Then and only then will the new Judge be called to duty,” she said.

She said she also received a letter from ICC President Sang-Hyun Song last Feb. 22, 2012, telling the 6 newly-elected ICC Judges “not to make any irreversible commitments for the time being which could terminate your current professional engagements with a view to future engagement at the Court.”

Santiago said that if she resigns from the Senate before the ICC calls her to duty, “it will have no responsibility for my income or professional accommodation.”

She added that she has no discretion on when she should report to the ICC.

“This is why I cannot resign from the Senate, until the ICC indicates that I should do so.  I will simply have to wait until the ICC Presidency makes a decision on whether I should report to the Appeals Chamber, which is considered the most prestigious of the three chambers of the ICC,” she said.

Illness prevented her from taking oath

The senator said she also failed to go to The Hague last March 2012 because she was suffering from hypertension. It was during this event that the newly-elected ICC judges took their oath.

“In hindsight, it was fortuitous that I did not take my oath as judge, because it could have disqualified me from remaining as Senator,” she said.

Santiago said that since she was re-elected senator in 2010, she wrote President Song, representing the ICC Presidency, to call her to duty as one of the last of the six new ICC Judges because she wanted to stay longer.

In June 2012, she said President Song wrote back and said: “It is not currently anticipated that you shall be called to serve on a full-time basis in the near future although, of course, the needs of the Court shall always be the primary consideration in such decisions.”

Silent about resignation

Santiago said she purposely kept silent about her potential resignation from the Senate because she would transfer “from the political to the legal sphere.”

She noted that once she starts her term, she will stay as ICC judge for 9 years.

“This will necessitate that I should lease a house, organize a household staff, and organize an official staff in The Hague.  Because The Hague has extremely cold weather, even my wardrobe will have to undergo an entire regime change.  More significantly, I will have to transfer from the political to the legal sphere,” she said.

“These are the reasons why I have kept silent about my potential resignation.  I did not want to add to the agitation among my political supporters, as evidenced by their comments on my Facebook page,” she added.

The senator said she decided to break her silence on her potential resignation because of widespread media and public speculation. “I am constrained to make this letter public, at least to save significant printing expenses on the part of the Comelec, and to guide political parties in drawing up their senatorial slates,” she said.

Comelec chief Sixto Brillantes earlier said Santiago needed to decide immediately so that the poll body will know if it will count an additional slot for the Senate elections in 2013.