Chinese President Xi Jinping in Rome on March 22 as part of a two-day visit to Italy. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)
A group of Filipino fishermen and two former top officials of the Philippine government filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Chinese President Xi Jinping for alleged "crimes against humanity."
Former Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudswoman Conchita Carpio-Morales, along with Filipino fishermen, accused Xi and Chinese officials of causing environmental damage in the South China Sea.
The fishermen and the two former officials filed the complaint — formally called a "communication" — against Xi and other Chinese officials before the ICC on March 15.
A statement of support posted on online petition website change.org has garnered at least 18,745 as of 5 p.m. on March 25.
A Filipino Catholic bishop lauded the move of the complainants, calling it "very courageous."
"I am happy that this brave lady is courageous to face a Goliath at the ICC," said Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon in an interview, referring to Carpio-Morales.
"Being a former Ombudsman, she knows what she is doing and that she has the right and duty to prosecute a foreign power for the good of our small country," said the prelate, adding that "her fortitude is astonishing and inspiring."
Bishop Bastes said Del Rosario is "another man of courage" who knows better than other people."
Former Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario (left) and former Ombudswoman Conchita Carpio-Morales, along with Filipino fishermen, file a complaint before the International Criminal Court against Chinese President Xi Jinping for alleged "crimes against humanity." (Photo by Angie de Silva)
The complainants said Xi and other Chinese officials have committed crimes, which involve "massive, near-permanent, and devastating environmental damages in the disputed waters."
Faith-based group Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) also hailed the move, saying that the complaint is a "brave step against the continuing disregard of the Chinese government of the Philippines' claim."
"This move is an important pursuit not only in behalf of the fisherfolk, but also in behalf of the future generations and the environment itself," said Yolly Esguerra, national coordinator of PMPI.
"This initiative does not only raise the rightful territorial claims of our Filipino fishermen, but also the concern over environmental destruction," she said, adding that it will "protect our marine ecosystem from the onslaught and greediness of China."
In 2015, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, after examining the ecological impacts of the reclamation, said 311 hectares of coral reefs have already been destroyed.
"All these ecological time bombs are set by the intense greed of one country, China, to take control of the area," said Esguerra.
The group called on the ICC to "impartially investigate the depths of environmental destruction done by China." It also urged Philippine leaders to "stand up for the nation and rightfully claim what is ours."
The presidential palace in Manila, however, downplayed the complaint as a "futile exercise."
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said both the Philippines and China are not members of the ICC, thus it has no jurisdiction over both countries.
The complaint was filed on March 15, two days before the effectivity of the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC. The complainants said they filed the complaint to "check impunity."
The Philippines has won a historic victory against China on the dispute in the South China Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 2016.