March 16, 2017 9:00 pm JST

Duterte impeachment attempt initiated in parliament

Firebrand Philippine president accused of extrajudicial killing, corruption

MIKHAIL FLORES, Nikkei staff writer

An attempt is being made in the Philippine parliament to impeach President Rodrigo Duterte for promoting extrajudicial killing of drug suspects and alleged corruption. © AP

MANILA -- An opposition lawmaker on Thursday filed a complaint to impeach President Rodrigo Duterte eight months after his entry into office.

Gary Alejano, a representative on the right-wing Magdalo Group's party list, accused Duterte of violating the constitution by supporting extrajudicial killing in his bloody war on drugs, which has already claimed well over 7,000 lives. "He is unfit to serve as president," Alejano said.

The Magdalo Group includes former military officers involved in a failed mutiny against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2003. Her successor, President Benigno Aquino, amnestied them in 2010, and the group rallied to win seats in the parliamentary elections of 2013 and 2016. 

The odds appear to be stacked against Alejano, however, since Duterte continues to enjoy overwhelming support in the house of representatives, which will be called on to weigh the initial complaint. Alejano must gain the support of at least a third of the 293-seat lower house for the case to proceed to the senate for further hearing.

Alejano accused Duterte of inciting policemen and vigilantes to kill suspected drug peddlers and users without due process. Since Duterte assumed office last year, approaching 8,000 drug suspects have been killed, more than half by unknown gunmen on motorcycles.

Duterte has denied the killings are state sponsored, but he has emboldened law enforcers in pursuing drug offenders by guaranteeing his full backing if policemen are accused of wrongdoing.

Alejano accused Duterte of corruption over his alleged unusual wealth of 2.2 billion pesos ($43.9 million), and for hiring bogus employees in his years as mayor of Davao in the southern Philippines.

Salvador Panelo, the president's chief legal counsel, said the impeachment complaint is "baseless" and will fail: "Like other groundless and malicious accusations against the president on his integrity, the impeachment complaint will not fly."

Impeachment complaints against previous Philippine presidents also failed, except the case against Joseph Estrada, which reached the senate. The trial was aborted, however, when prosecutors walked out. That triggered massive protests, eventually leading to Estrada's overthrow in 2001.

Ramon Casiple, executive director at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said the complaint against Duterte is unlikely to prosper and largely propaganda, but it could set the tone for further attempts to unseat him.

"Impeachment is usually a stage where political battles begin," Casiple said.

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