Given the wide coverage of the Calvo-Goller/Weigend/Weiler saga, EJIL Talk readers will be well aware of the topic of challenges to academic freedom. This post seeks to draw readers’ attention to another instance involving risks of an altogether different degree, and to raise awareness for what seems to be a worrying attempt, by a court, to silence dissent among academics: the Court in question is the Philippine Supreme Court, which is threatening 37 members of the University of Philippine’s College of Law with disciplinary sanctions for contempt – a charge that may eventually result in the loss of their bar licenses. This is only the latest twist in legal proceedings that from the outside seem altogether surreal, but that involve risks of a very real nature to some of our colleagues. So what is it all about, and why should we care?
What it’s about
The contempt proceedings have their origin in the proceedings of Isabelita Vinuya et al. v. Executive Secretary et al., in which the plaintiffs sought an order requiring the Philippine government to seek reparations from Japan for the mistreatment of Philippine “comfort women” during World War II. The Supreme Court declined the request, and in the course of its decision discussed concepts such as jus cogens and obligations erga omnes. Its discussion was curious because it quoted passages from works by Dr Mark Ellis, Professors Evan Fox-Decent and Evan Criddle and myself without properly attributing them, and, it seems, without really having understood them – hence attempts to apply jus cogens or obligations erga omnes meaningfully were presented as evidence of their questionable status.