Sovereignty Limited by International Law & Treaties

[The Supreme Court] notes and appreciates the ferocity and passion by which petitioners stressed their arguments on this issue. However, while sovereignty has traditionally been deemed absolute and all-encompassing on the domestic level, it is however subject to restrictions and limitations voluntarily agreed to by the Philippines, expressly or impliedly, as a member of the family of nations. Unquestionably, the Constitution did not envision a hermit-type isolation of the country from the rest of the world. In its Declaration of Principles and State Policies, the Constitution "adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land, and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation and amity, with all nations." By the doctrine of incorporation, the country is bound by generally accepted principles of international law, which are considered to be automatically part of our own laws. One of the oldest and most fundamental rules in international law is pacta sunt servanda — international agreements must be performed in good faith. "A treaty engagement is not a mere moral obligation but creates a legally binding obligation on the parties . . . A state which has contracted valid international obligations is bound to make in its legislations such modifications as may be necessary to ensure the fulfillment of the obligations undertaken."
By their inherent nature, treaties really limit or restrict the absoluteness of sovereignty. By their voluntary act, nations may surrender some aspects of their state power in exchange for greater benefits granted by or derived from a convention or pact. After all, states, like individuals, live with coequals, and in pursuit of mutually covenanted objectives and benefits, they also commonly agree to limit the exercise of their otherwise absolute rights. Thus, treaties have been used to record agreements between States concerning such widely diverse matters as, for example, the lease of naval bases, the sale or cession of territory, the termination of war, the regulation of conduct of hostilities, the formation of alliances, the regulation of commercial relations, the settling of claims, the laying down of rules governing conduct in peace and the establishment of international organizations.

The sovereignty of a state therefore cannot in fact and in reality be considered absolute. Certain restrictions enter into the picture: (1) limitations imposed by the very nature of membership in the family of nations and (2) limitations imposed by treaty stipulations. As aptly put by John F. Kennedy, "Today, no nation can build its destiny alone. The age of self-sufficient nationalism is over. The age of interdependence is here."

Thus, when the Philippines joined the United Nations as one of its 51 charter members, it consented to restrict its sovereign rights under the "concept of sovereignty as auto-limitation." -A Under Article 2 of the UN Charter, "(a)ll members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action." Such assistance includes payment of its corresponding share not merely in administrative expenses but also in expenditures for the peace-keeping operations of the organization. In its advisory opinion of July 20, 1961, the International Court of Justice held that money used by the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East and in the Congo were "expenses of the United Nations" under Article 17, paragraph 2, of the UN Charter. Hence, all its members must bear their corresponding share in such expenses. In this sense, the Philippine Congress is restricted in its power to appropriate. It is compelled to appropriate funds whether it agrees with such peace-keeping expenses or not. So too, under Article 105 of the said Charter, the UN and its representatives enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities, thereby limiting again the exercise of sovereignty of members within their own territory. Another example: although "sovereign equality" and "domestic jurisdiction" of all members are set forth as underlying principles in the UN Charter, such provisos are however subject to enforcement measures decided by the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security under Chapter VII of the Charter. A final example: under Article 103, "(i)n the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligation under the present charter shall prevail," thus unquestionably denying the Philippines — as a member — the sovereign power to make a choice as to which of conflicting obligations, if any, to honor. (G.R. No. 118295; May 2, 1997)

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