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Rm. N-411, House of Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
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The Manila Times
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column

(Last of three parts)

First Part

Second Part

This third installment of my “2021 Counter-SONA” covers President Duterte’s contumacious defiance of the investigation to be conducted by the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor; the dismal state of press freedom and human rights; and the corruption and the drug menace under the Duterte administration.

Defiance of the ICC probe is impunity

President Duterte does not only continue to evade the jurisdiction of the ICC, but also defies the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision which:

  1. recognized ICC’s jurisdiction over Duterte’s alleged crimes against humanity and other atrocities due to his brutal war on drugs;

  2. rejected Duterte’s posturing that the Philippine withdrawal on March 16, 2018 from the Rome Statute ousted the ICC’s jurisdiction over him;

  3. confirmed that under Article 127 of the Rome Statute, the effectivity of a state party’s withdrawal is one year after the receipt of the notice of withdrawal by the United Nations Secretary General. Hence, the Philippine withdrawal became effective only on March 17, 2019; and

  4. pronounced that all covered offenses committed by Duterte and his cohorts from Nov. 1, 2011 when the Philippines became a state party to the Rome Statute until March 16, 2019, fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction, and the Philippines is obligated to cooperate with the investigation of the ICC’s prosecutor.

President Duterte’s defiance is emboldened by the ICC’s incapacity to arrest him. Taking advantage of ICC’s lack of an enforcement arm aggravates the gravity of Duterte’s evasion. The absence of a policeman does not justify impunity.

Press freedom predator

President Duterte derogates the freedom of the press, which is a component of the freedom of expression. In his SONA, he insisted that ABS-CBN cheated the government in unpaid taxes to justify the rejection of its franchise renewal, despite the tax agencies issuing clearances in favor of the network giant.

The Reporters Without Boarders (RWB) ranked the Philippines a lowly 138th out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index. It also included Duterte among the 37 world leaders branded as “press freedom predators.”

The RWB documents Duterte’s attacks against The Philippine Daily Inquirer for reporting critically on his bloody war on drugs; the brazen denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal at the behest of Duterte; the malicious criminal charges against Maria Ressa of Rappler who exposed Duterte’s flawed policies; and the massive employment of trolls who harass and vilify journalists and critics of government online.  

Duterte fails to comprehend that the freedoms of speech and of the press are the hallmarks of a democratic government. Paraphrasing the very recent decision of the Supreme Court in Tulfo vs. People, without these freedoms, the errors of government would go unnoticed, its abuses unexposed, and official wrongdoings unrectified.


Unabated human rights violations

Right after the Second World War, the Philippines actively participated in the drafting of the United Nations Charter to promote international peace and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The country has ratified eight out of nine core international human rights instruments. Hence, the Philippines had been globally hailed.

Such singular distinction has been obliterated by current continuing human rights transgressions, like extra-judicial killings (EJKs), repressive policies, and harassment and summary executions of human rights defenders (HRDs). The Constitution provides that “[t]he State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights,” thereby prohibiting torture and other cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment, more particularly the death penalty. Consequently, the Congress enacted RA 9346 abolishing the death penalty, RA 9745 or the “Anti-Torture Act,” and RA 10353 or the “Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act”.

What these laws prohibit, the Duterte administration culpably practices. Seemingly unmindful of the constitutional and statutory proscription of judicial killing or the death penalty, President Duterte instigates what is even worse – EJK – throwing due process of law into the dustbin.

Captive to corruption

An initial pillar of President Duterte’s administration was ending official corruption. This pillar crumbled when he admitted in two television appearances in 2020 that he cannot solve corruption which he claimed is a plague that intensifies.

In his SONA, he repeated this defeatist attitude when he said that: “[c]orruption is endemic in the government. You cannot stop corruption, nobody can stop corruption, unless we overturn the government completely.” He even proposed that martial law be imposed as the solution. He is oblivious of the fact that during Marcos’ martial law regime, corruption ravaged the country with unprecedented odiousness.

War on drugs: from centerpiece to Waterloo

It is ironic that President Duterte’s centerpiece program – the elimination of the drug menace – is his Waterloo. Instead of saving lives from the clutches of drug addiction, thousands of lives have been forfeited to his unabated brutal war on drugs.

Whatever the horrific figure is, the fact is almost all the victims are impoverished and marginalized, whose deaths were mostly instigated by Duterte’s “kill, kill, kill” pronouncements, and where the culpable agents of the State were extended the presidential shield and condonation.

Although early in his administration Duterte repeatedly admitted the failure of his drug war, the deadly campaign continues to be waged even as he again justified it in his SONA.

While every single nation in Southeast Asia faces a drug menace, only President Duterte is obsessed and possessed by it.

Verily, Duterte has floundered both in his centerpiece program of eradicating the drug scourge, and in competently combatting the Covid-19 crisis, a failure which is compounded by his lack of a road map to revive the people’s health and restore the country’s economy.

What Duterte failed to accomplish or fulfill in five years, he cannot cram into completion in barely six months considering the onset of the election fever in early 2022.

The electorate’s 2022 verdict will be the veritable clapback to President Duterte’s final SONA.


First Part

Second Part

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