First impeachment complaint filed vs Duterte

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Nine months into office, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was slapped with an impeachment complaint filed by a lawmaker on Thursday, March 16, at the House of Representatives.

Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano filed the complaint, accusing Duterte of culpably violating the Constituton, engaging in bribery, betraying public trust, committing graft and corruption, and other high crimes.

The complaint cites the President's alleged involvement in the creation of the Davao Death Squad when he was mayor; his war on drugs since he became president, which has led to the alleged summary killing of thousands of Filipinos; and his supposed unexplained wealth in the form of bank deposits and undeclared properties, among others. (READ: Highlights: Impeachment complaint vs Duterte)

The 1987 Philippine Constitution sets specific grounds for impeachment of the president – treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.

The House has the exclusive power to initiate the impeachment process.

Section 2 of the Constitution states: "The President, the Vice President, the members of the Supreme Court, the members of the constitutional commission, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office, on impeachment for and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft, and corruption, other higher crimes or betrayal of public trust."

'Uphill battle'

Alejano filed the complaint before the House secretary-general a day after the House of Representatives ended its first session. They return to work on May 2.

He conceded that given Duterte's control of the House, the impeachment process will be an "uphill battle."

The complaint will be referred to the Speaker, who shall calendar it within 10 days from receipt of the complaint. The committee on rules will bring it to the plenary, which will endorse it to the committee on justice, tasked to determine whether the complaint is sufficient in form and substance.

If at least 1/3 of the House affirms the complaint, it will be forwarded to the Senate for an impeachment trial presided by the Chief Justice. A 2/3 vote of all members of the Senate would convict the President and remove him from office. (READ: FAST FACTS: How does impeachment work?)

Recess

Since the House is now in recess, this process can only begin when lawmakers resume session on May 2.

The justice committee is headed by Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali, a member of the House majority and an erstwhile ally of former president Benigno Aquino III.

Aquino himself was the subject of an impeachment complaint in July 2014 over the controversial budget spending scheme called the Disbursement Acceleration Program. Endorsed by the leftist Makabayan bloc in Congress, the complaint was eventually dismissed.

Today, Duterte counts at least 267 allies in the House of Representatives. There are 292 total members of the House. 

The latest proof of the President's control of the lower chamber is the approval on final reading of the controversial death penalty bill. The lawmakers who voted to reject it lost their committee chairmanships only last Wednesday, March 15.

"Kung numbers ang paguusapan, nakita natin sa death penalty bill kung paano nabraso ng liderato ng Kongreso ang death penalty... So it will be an uphill battle," Alejano told reporters in a press conference.

(If you look at the numbers in the death penalty vote and how the House leadership maneuvered for its approval, then [impeachment] is an uphill battle.)

3 main charges

The complaint stems from 3 main charges against Duterte.

Charge 1 accuses the President of betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, and other high crimes for his war on drugs which, according to the complaint, the President has used to "induce" policemen into killing alleged drug dealers and users without regard for the law, and making this as basis for their promotion in the police.

Charge 2 accuses the President of betrayal of public trust, bribery, graft and corruption, and culpable violation of the Constitution for allegedly creating the Davao Death Squad (DDS) when he was mayor of Davao, citing the testimonies of self-confessed DDS members retired policeman Arturo Lascañas and Edgar Matobato.

Charge 3 accuses the President of graft and corruption and other high crimes for his alleged unexplained wealth, as revealed previously by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and his hiring of contractual employees as mayor. Among the annexes in the complaint are the alleged bank accounts of Duterte and his family.

Abella: Part of a plot

Alejano said his party, which is led by former military officers who staged the botched Oakwood mutiny in 2003, filed the impeachment complaint to show respect for the legal process. "Walang kasamang extra-legal dito. Walang kudeta." (It's not extra-legal. There's no coup.)

President Duterte and his allies have been telling the public about a supposed destabilization plot against him.

Reacting to the complaint, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said it's part of a "larger scheme of things" even as he denied the President ever violated the Constitution. (READ: Palace insists no basis to impeach Duterte)

"It seems rather dramatic that everything seems coordinated at this stage with acts trying to discredit the administration, trying to throw it in doubt," Abella added.

It was no less than Communications Secretary Martin Andanar who first spoke about the supposed plot against Duterte 5 months ago – in September 2016. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr however dismissed it then as without basis.

Alejano said he chose not to inform his colleagues in the opposition about the filing of the complaint on Thursday. But he added he already has the support of some lawmakers. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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