ICJ Judge Cesar Bengzon Hall Inaugurated at Philippine Embassy in The Hague
19 July 2022, The Hague – The ICJ Judge Cesar Bengzon Hall at the Embassy of the Philippines in The Hague was inaugurated Tuesday, 19 July 2022, in a ceremony attended by the Vice President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), four other judges of the ICJ, and other international legal luminaries, diplomats and Filipino community members.
The event was held in honor of Chief Justice Cesar Bengzon as the first and so far the only Filipino Judge of the International Court of Justice, who served a full nine year-term at the World Court from 1967 to 1976. Also honored were two highly acclaimed Filipino jurists, Justice Florentino Feliciano, former Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and founding Member and then President of the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (1995 to 2001); and Dean Raul C. Pangalangan, Judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC) (2015 to 2021).
In his keynote address, ICJ Vice President Kirill Gevorgian praised the valuable experience of Judge Bengzon as Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court which provided a different perspective to the members of the ICJ and gave added flavor to the work of the Court and the development of international law.
“Judge Bengzon made significant contributions to the work of the Court and to the development of international law… He contributed to a number of seminal judgments and advisory opinions that have become crucial to the protection of human rights around the world,” added Gevorgian.
Gevorgian recalled how he met Bengzon for the first time in the 1970s in Moscow, when Gevorgian was a young lawyer, during a lecture given by Bengzon on the protection of human rights.
“Throughout his illustrious career, Judge Bengzon is known as a staunch defender of human rights. He served for many years as a Member and President of the Philippine section of the International Commission of Jurists, an international non-government organization dedicated to the defense of human rights and the rule of law worldwide,” said Judge Gevorgian.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, in his video-recorded remarks, alluded to the Dutch saying, “Als er één schaap over de dam is, volgen er meer” (if one sheep crosses the dam, more will follow), to underscore Bengzon’s greatest contribution to the Philippine legal profession as blazing the trail for Filipino jurists and lawyers alike to enter and serve in the world’s highest courts and tribunals.
Bengzon’s ‘appointment to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) capped a brilliant career in the service of his fellow men and women…. This honor given by the Philippine Embassy is but a fitting tribute to a man who is an epitome of integrity and excellence, a Philippine magistrate who had made waves throughout the world,” Gesmundo said.
Meanwhile, ICJ Judge Iwasawa Yuji, in his remarks, highlighted the achievements of the two other honorees. “Justice Feliciano was a towering figure in international law. I was fortunate to work with him, and as his colleague, I was especially impressed with his meticulous nature and attention to details. His expertise went far beyond international trade law and international commercial arbitration. He was also a prolific academic whose scholarship touched on almost every area of international trade law ranging from the law of war, to the law of the sea, and human rights law,” according to Judge Iwasawa.
Judge Iwasawa also noted Judge Pangalangan’s profound impact in the ICC where he served as a judge from 2015 to 2021. “In addition to his extensive involvement with the ICC, Judge Pangalangan has made significant scholarly contributions to the fields of international criminal law and international humanitarian law. In particular, he has lectured and taught at the University of the Philippines, Harvard Law School, and The Hague Academy of International Law, among many other prestigious institutions. Although his work is primarily international in nature, Judge Pangalangan has also greatly enriched the legal culture of his native country,” said Judge Iwasawa.
In his opening remarks, Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya, said that “by having this event, the Embassy and the Philippines Government reaffirm its abiding faith and commitment to international law and the rule of law in inter-state relations. We do this by recalling the valuable services of three eminent Filipinos who in their own ways have made significant contributions to the international legal institutions they served and to the field of international law generally… By inaugurating the ICJ Judge Bengzon Hall, we hope that it would be a place that would memorialize the legacies of Bengzon, Feliciano, and Pangalangan not only for the Philippines and other countries, but to the The Hague, which we call affectionately as the international city of peace and justice.”
Bengzon is the sole Filipino and Southeast Asian to have sat at the ICJ, Malaya noted.
In attendance were a number of international law luminaries and diplomats, notably ICJ Judges Peter Tomka and Hilary Charlesworth, Secretary General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Marcin Czepelak, Secretary General of The Hague Academy of International Law, Prof. Jean-Marc Thouvenin, Director of the Netherland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Department of Asia and Oceania, Karin Mossenlechner and Mr. Jules van Eijndhoven, Head of the MFA Treaties Division. Permanent Representative of the Philippine Mission to the World Trade Organization in Geneva Manuel Teehankee also attended the inauguration.
The members of the Bengzon and Feliciano families, who came all the way from the Philippines and the U.S. for the occasion, were appreciative of the tribute accorded to their forebears. “We, the family of Cesar Bengzon, are grateful to the Philippine Embassy and Ambassador Malaya for extending to us the invitation to attend the inauguration of the ICJ Judge Cesar Bengzon Hall. We are truly privileged and deeply honored to be here today,” Mr. Anthony Bengzon, grandson of Chief Justice Bengzon, said in his message.
The family of Justice Feliciano, through daughter Ms. Josephine Feliciano Reyes, was equally thankful of the honor given to Justice Feliciano. As she fondly recounted the happy memories of her father, she narrated how in everything he did, “the underlying motivation was love for the country because the Philippines and the Filipino people have much to offer to the world.” In a letter he wrote to a young Filipino lawyer who was offered a position in a law firm abroad, Justice Feliciano said “I hope you will come back to the Philippines, because if all bright young minds leave the Philippines, who will be left to care about her?”
Judge Pangalangan in his eloquent message of thanks, underscored the key role international law has played in Philippine history and for every Filipino. “International Law has always played a central role in the shaping of Filipino history. Today it is no longer the domain solely of diplomats, high-level jurists, and high-minded scholars alone. Today it has become part of the mundane, quotidian needs of the ordinary Filipino, authenticating a birth certificate of a child born abroad, getting a foreign divorce recognized locally, and conversely respecting the rights of spouses in mixed marriages, on one hand, and on the other, securing the hopes for redress of human rights victims and asserting our claims to the resources of the oceans for the next generation of Filipinos.”
“Personally, I am gratified that our Republic gave me a chance to participate in that noble work. International law is not just about rules and provisions. It is actually about ideals and hopes—dreams that will outlive us all. We are merely temporary custodians, and I wish we prove ourselves worthy,” Pangalangan added.
Pictures by courtesy of the Embassy of the Philippines.