Marcos’ sovereign immunity in effect in US visit

I believe that PBBM will continue to respect our Constitution and democratic institutions. He is not the antithesis of democracy. He is its living proof.

Braving a $353 million contempt judgment by a United States Federal Court, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has stepped on American soil once again. Three decades after his family’s forced exile in Hawaii, PBBM is back as a head of state and the symbol of Philippine sovereignty.

As he attends the United Nations 77th General Assembly and holds bilateral meetings with world leaders, the President carries the aspirations of 110 million Filipinos, especially the goodwill of 31 million voters who made him the first majority president since the 1980s. His working visit to the United States bears close watching.

Immunity from local jurisdiction

PBBM, as an executor of the estate of the late President Marcos Sr., has a pending bench warrant for contempt issued by the Hawaii District Court. The contempt judgment is for the failure of the estate to pay the $2 billion in exemplary and compensatory damages to the victims of human rights abuses during the term of the elder Marcos. In 1995, the same Honolulu court handed down the monetary judgment in favor of the complainants.

The Hilao vs Marcos class suit was filed under the Alien Torts Statute, which allows non-US citizens to file civil lawsuits against individuals who commit the most serious crimes, such as torture and genocide, against international law. The American lawyer for the complainants was quoted that he would do everything to have the contempt judgment enforced against the President. It could lead to PBBM being subpoenaed by the Hawaii District Court to face questions regarding the assets of the Marcoses. He would also need to pay the judgment on contempt amounting to $353 million. The court has extended the contempt judgment until 2031.

The US executive branch, meantime, has promised to accord sovereign immunity to our President. After all, sovereign immunity from suits and jurisdiction is a recognized principle of customary international law. Further, heads of state are accorded certain privileges and immunities under international law. Contravening these violates the principle of sovereign equality of United Nations members as stipulated under Article 2 of the UN Charter.

Moreover, the UN Headquarters Agreement extends sovereign immunity from local jurisdiction to its permanent ambassadors and other accredited diplomats. It compels the US government to respect the immunity accorded to presidents and heads of state attending a high-level meeting. The agreement states that no federal, state, or local law that is inconsistent with a UN regulation shall be applied within the headquarters district based in New York City.

Thus, as a sitting president invited as a speaker in the General Assembly, I am confident that PBBM will be protected by sovereign immunity from local jurisdiction.

Political opposition

These developments lead me to wonder how the opposition, particularly the rabid anti-Marcos groups in America, would take advantage of the situation. I am hoping against hope that they would desist from publicly embarrassing or shaming PBBM before the international community. Any form of disrespect to the President is a slap on the face of every Filipino across the globe.

I recall when I was the country’s candidate for the UN International Law Commission in 2021, anti-government demonstrators immediately protested outside the UN headquarters. They called me a “war criminal” and hurled invectives against my person. According to an informant, the protesters were supposedly paid $300 each. I pity these young Filipino -Americans because, frankly, they do not have full knowledge of what the issue is all about. That the protest action was allegedly the handiwork of an influential business leader and political funder with ties to the local opposition party. I pray that the person concerned will not plot against PBBM during the US visit.

I also hope that detractors would not tap the media to peddle fake claims that the Marcos presidency is a prelude to another era of martial law or dictatorship in the Philippines. I advise the opposition to come to terms with the political reality. PBBM won the overwhelming mandate of the Filipino people. They should move on from their ignominious defeat in the 2019 and 2022 elections. A major takeaway for the opposition: The electorate is averse to vilifiers or armchair critics.

Voters would likely favor solution -oriented national candidates with exemplary legislative or executive track records.

Like many Filipinos worldwide, I fully support our incumbent leader. His history-setting victory in the May 2022 elections is a testament to our vibrant democracy. I believe that PBBM will continue to respect our Constitution and democratic institutions. He is not the antithesis of democracy. He is its living proof.

Again, PBBM is the country’s symbol of sovereignty. We pray for his safety and security in the US, and we wish the country’s success on the international stage.

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