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Is the withdrawal from ICC moral or immoral?

Is the withdrawal from ICC moral or immoral?

“He seizes the poor man and drags him away” (Psalm 10:9)

BISHOPS and priests are neither lawyers nor jurists. Legal matters are not their field of competence. This is usually the battle cry of those who tell bishops and priests to “stay out of politics”.

But they ignore one thing: Even the hierarchy (a term for the clergy as a body) also has a field of competence. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World or ‘Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope)’ defines what is traditionally understood as the hierarchy’s proper task: “to preach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its tasks among men without any hindrance, and to pass moral judgments even in matters relating to politics, whenever the rights of men or the salvation of souls requires it” (GS 76).

As a priest, therefore, I feel I should focus more on the moral aspect of one subject now burning among concerned Filipinos: the chief executive’s decision to take the country out of the ICC (International Criminal Court) that is set to perform a legal process in relation to the drug killings in the country. Morality in Catholic teaching is arrived at by considering the object (matter of a human act), the intention (end or purpose of an act) and the circumstances surrounding an act (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1749-1756).

The act itself of withdrawing the country from the ICC seems neutral. But it is not. It already prejudices the country’s chances to be protected from abusive administrations now and in the future, if and when the human dignity and human rights of citizens, particularly the poor and the powerless, are threatened or trampled upon. Philippine justice is, from a long history of indicators, is tailored to serve the rich and the powerful. That most drug-related killings victimize the poor illustrates this point. To deprive the disadvantaged (the more numerous in the population) of a potential source of legal sanctuary and an alternative recourse for justice can never be moral.

The question of intention is fraught with uncertainty and doubt. But it has to be truthfully answered. Is the chief executive by the ICC withdrawal keeping the country out of an international body truly prejudiced against him, or as having veritably prejudged him negatively? To these experts opine that there is not even an investigation yet, and thus prejudgment is out of the question. Even granting that that were true, how and why would this also include the whole country’s interests, its present and future pursuit of justice? Or is he merely out to keep himself from being reached by the long arm of the law, even if from an external source, at the country’s expense? Is he not, in effect, merely serving his own good and not the common good? It would stretch the mind too much to say that the common good is served by the ICC withdrawal. If, as St. John XXIII defines it, the common good is “the sum total of all those conditions of social life which enable individuals, families and organizations to achieve complete and efficacious fulfilment” (GS 74; Mater et Magistra, n. 53), I do not see how human dignity, human rights and justice could be excluded. A leader’s act therefore that, while it protects him from accountability, compromises the common good, cannot be moral.

Perhaps it could be argued that present circumstances appear to conspire against the chief executive’s getting a fair treatment from the ICC. I am sure the ICC would respond to this in the negative, and perhaps just as adequately. In a recent press conference the presidential spokesman claimed that the Philippines was a leader in the ICC and that its withdrawal would also trigger the withdrawal of many other member nations. Even if true, saying so does little to heighten the rightness of the withdrawal itself but feeds merely the oversized ego of some people in government. On the one hand, unfair treatment is mostly within the realm of speculation, considering that no ICC action is taken and made public as yet. On the other hand, separation from ICC already deals a severe blow to the country’s trustworthiness as a responsible member of the community of nations. That alone raises the culpability of the withdrawal itself and that can hardly be considered moral. To quote Bovee: “It is only an error in judgment to make a mistake, but it shows infirmity of character to adhere to it when discovered.”