Motion to impeach Duterte goes to House justice committee

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

The Philippines House of Representatives referred an impeachment bid against President Rodrigo Duterte to the justice committee today. Although Duterte’s allies hold the majority of seats in the House, opponents are urging the justice panel not to dismiss the complaint without a proper hearing.

The complaint, filed by Rep. Gary Alejano in March, accuses Duterte of  “bribery, murder, and crimes against humanity” in his war on drugs. According to some estimates, more than 9,000 mostly urban poor suspected drug users and dealers have died in extrajudicial killings since the authoritarian populist president entered office last June.

The complaint also accuses Duterte of maintaining about 11,000 “ghost employees” on payroll during his time as mayor of Davao City, as well as illegally amassing more than $40 million in undeclared bank accounts. Later, Alejano added more claims of “high crimes,” saying that the president failed to assert the Philippines’ rights in disputed territories with China.

“Expect no fireworks here,” Deputy Speaker of the House Rep. Raneo Abu said on Sunday, according to Manila Bulletin. “The allies of President Duterte will reject this political exercise being baseless, unfounded and divisive. The chief executive is a very popular leader and we have been witnessing his commitment to serve the interests of the poorest of the poor.”

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Those who support the impeachment complaint are worried that the House majority will fast-track the proceedings to skirt even a preliminary hearing with its “superiority of numbers,” as Duterte supporters in the Senate did earlier this year to witness testimonies.

“The Committee on Justice cannot dismiss or sustain outright a duly filed and properly referred impeachment complaint without conducting a proper hearing as mandated by the Constitution,” Rep. Edcel Lagman said in a press conference today, according to the Philippine Inquirer.

Although the impeachment motion is unlikely to receive enough votes to go to the Senate for trial, Alejano and others have said it lays the groundwork to bring Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

Two weeks ago, a Filipino lawyer, Jude Josue Sabio, presented a 77-page complaint to the ICC against Duterte and 11 other Philippine officials for mass murder and crimes against humanity. According to the complaint, Duterte is the “mastermind” behind the killings of thousands of people over three decades – since he instituted “death squads” as mayor of Davao City until now.

Duterte’s spokesman said he was confident that Sabio’s case would not succeed because Sabio had not pursued all legal options in the Philippines. Therefore, even if Alejano’s impeachment motion does not succeed, it supports a case in international court.

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Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo also faces an impeachment complaint filed by a Duterte supporter last Tuesday. According to the complaint, she “betrayed public trust” when she sent a video message to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, condemning the war on drugs for killing more than 7,000 people.

The administration says that fewer than 2,000 people have been killed in legitimate police anti-drug operations.

As of this weekend, a lawmaker has yet to back the impeachment complaint against Robredo, and Duterte has spoken out against the motion as well, because “it will be destructive for all,” his Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo told reporters last Wednesday, according to ABS-CBN.

“As the president says, any impeachment filed against those who have won the votes should not be pursued because it will only derail the legislative agenda the Congress has,” Panelo said. “Instead of focusing on national concerns, servicing the people, we’ll be engaged in politics. We’ve had enough of that for the last so many decades.”

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Joanne Lu

Joanne Lu is a South Carolina-based writer and editor dedicated to global development, poverty alleviation and social justice. After a year in Rwanda, she now covers the Asia-Pacific and economics. Find her on Twitter @joannelu or email joanne@humanosphere.com.