An intimidating book

This monumental tome entitled International Law, by Saul Hofileña, Jr., is very timely because it speaks of things that have disconcerted us lately – the Law of the Sea, treaties and how these are generated and broken, how a criminal who has escaped to another country may be extradited back to the country where he is facing arrest or where he should serve sentence, crimes against humanity, etc.

There is a chapter (Page 160), Erga Omnes and Jus Cogens (obligations to all and compelling law). Jus cogens pertains to norms that cannot be violated or cannot be set aside (non-derogable in legalese). For example, the prohibition ofslavery, piracy, torture, and crimes against humanity.

The author also tackles diplomatic immunity. He explained to me that should an ambassador kill 20 people in the country where he is accredited, he cannot be prosecuted for such a crime because, according to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, he is beyond the pale of the criminal jurisdiction of the host country.

There is a frightful chapter on genocide, which Atty. Hofileña describes as “a crime as old as the soil,” and, to illustrate, cites the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian killing fields, and the history of international criminal tribunals.

Atty. Hofileña also harmonized the Rome Statute with previous doctrines adopted by various international criminal courts, the Geneva Conventions and additional protocols. He said that all the above are meant to work together and supplement each other, and interpretations of the Rome Statue may draw on numerous precedents cited by legalists whenever the Geneva Conventions are applied and the rulings of previously created international criminal courts are cited.

There is also a treatise on war and the Laws of War. He writes of who or what may be targeted. Camps, fortifications, vessels (except when carrying the sick and the wounded) are legitimate targets of military attacks. Buildings dedicated to religion should not be targeted since the Rome Statute punishes it as a war crime. With regard to Prisoners of War (POW), they must be humanely treated, removed from combat areas upon capture, and must also receive medical care, adequate food and clothing. They can be paroled if they promise not to fight in the war again. However, terrorists are not entitled to POW status; neither are persons who do not meet the criteria of resistance fighters. Neither are spies entitled to POW status, but soldiers wearing their uniforms should not be considered spies when they penetrate an enemy zone.

With regard to the Law of the Sea, the Philippines was allowed to draw archipelagic baselines because of its peculiar configuration of more than 7,000 islands. Our country was recognized as an archipelago under the Law of the Sea Convention; consequently, the Philippine Congress passed a law, Republic Act 9522, delineating the baselines of the Philippines.

In the sub-section “The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” the author expounds that the EEZ is the marine area including the subjacent seabed and subsoil beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea extending up to 200 nautical miles from the baselines of the territorial sea.

In the EEZ, the coastal state (the Philippines) has the sovereign right to explore and exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources, living or non-living, of the waters within the EEZ. Our country has the right to economic exploitation and exploration, to the production of energy from water, currents, or wind; the right to establish and use artificial islands and structures, conduct marine scientific research and the correlative duty of protecting and preserving the environment. The Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) makes it clear that “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”Most of China’s island-building activities lie within the EEZ of the Philippines, yet China is a signatory of the LOSC. It is for this reason that the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China breached its obligations under the treaty.

Atty. Hofileña said, “Truly, International Law is oftentimes unfathomable.” His book unravels the mysteries of the laws of nations through the melded power of historical data, clear statements, and lucid analytical thought.

International Law by Saul Hofileña, Jr. (Baybayin Press, Manila, 2016) is available at the Solidaridad, at Fully Booked and other leading bookstores.