MANILA Philippine lawmakers started hearing an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, which alleges he betrayed the public trust over his “defeatist” approach to China and had abused his power during a bloody anti-drugs campaign.
The complaint by Gary Alejano, a member of a minority block, accuses Duterte of a litany of “high crimes”, including hiding wealth, ordering police to murder criminals, and of making clear his intention not to protect Philippine maritime sovereignty.
The house committee must decide whether the complaint has sufficient weight for it to be taken to a plenary vote of the house, then ultimately a trial at the Senate.
Politicians and even Alejano himself say it is likely the complaint will be thrown out given the huge support Duterte enjoys in the house and among the public. Duterte’s office dismisses it as “black propaganda”.
Alejano wants the impeachment proceeding to embolden the public to speak up over a war on drugs that has killed thousands of Filipinos, and over Duterte’s failure to pressure China to abide by an international arbitration decision last year that ruled some of Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea were illegal.
Within the first 90 minutes of Monday’s hearing, several panel members said Alejano’s complaint was flawed and should be thrown out right away.
Representative Harry Roque said “at best it’s a misrepresentation, at worst it’s a falsity”, while deputy house speaker Fredenil Castro said Alejano was trying to oust a president with hearsay and proceedings should be terminated.
“Let it be an example to all concerned, especially members of the house, that you cannot make a joke of this proceeding,” said Castro.
Some political commentators say Alejano’s complaint has an ulterior motive: to strengthen a complaint filed last month with the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing Duterte of crimes against humanity for his drugs crackdown.
Among the ICC’s jurisdictional requirements is that domestic legal avenues to try an individual are first exhausted.
Alejano’s impeachment effort alleges Duterte ran a “death squad” during the 22 years he was mayor of Davao City, and that he did nothing to oppose the months-long presence without permission of a Chinese survey ship in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off its Pacific coast.
Opposition committee members argued Alejano should be heard, even if it had little chance of success.
“My personal opinion is this impeachment will not fly,” minority leader Danilo Suarez told the hearing.
(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Michael Perry)