They really believed they could get away with the killings.

They hid behind a president who has been flouting the country’s laws since he got elected into office in 2016.

Rodrigo Duterte has immunity from lawsuits only until he steps down in June 2022. Even if he is elected vice president, the position cannot save him from lawsuits.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague will soon start an investigation that will likely lead to an indictment, a trial and a conviction for crimes against humanity.

His own national police acknowledged that more than 6,000 street-level drug peddlers and users died in the brutal and bloody war on drugs, Duterte’s centerpiece program.

The police said all were killed in self-defense but human rights groups and the former ICC chief prosecutor believed otherwise, having established a deadly pattern of killings. The narratives of all the cases were almost identical — “nanlaban” (they fought back).

Only the names of the victims, the dates, times, and places where the police operations happened were different.

The coronavirus pandemic did not deter state agents from carrying out anti-illegal drug operations, which resulted in the deaths of drug suspects. Only the number of operations and fatalities have declined but the killings never stopped.

Duterte has been encouraging police officers to “neutralize” drug suspects, promising them protection from prosecution. In his sixth and last State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA), he asked Congress to pass a law giving law enforcers legal assistance, probably anticipating an avalanche of criminal cases against the police after he steps down from power.

Some of the more senior officials in the national police might also face sanctions and could be prosecuted along with Duterte at the ICC.

At one point, Duterte authorized the grant of cash rewards to police officers who had killed drug suspects, as well as promotions and juicy assignments.

But the police officers were not alone.

Public officials who were appointed by the president to key and sensitive positions in the executive branch also flouted the laws, taking full advantage of their close relations with Duterte to waste government resources.

There is still no hard and proven evidence that these people had stolen government funds. The reports of state auditors on how the budget was spent would need much closer scrutiny to know how money was spent or misused.

The Commission on Audit (COA) has called the attention of the Department of Health (DOH) after it failed to substantially explain how P67 billion in the 2020 national budget was spent.

COA clarified it was not accusing the health department of corruption, but merely wanted the agency to submit documents, including receipts, to show that everything was in order.

If the department could not justify the expenses, it would be asked to return the money. If there was bad faith, officials would be held liable and face an investigation in the Office of the Ombudsman. The case might even go to the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan.

Duterte should welcome the findings of state auditors if he is really serious in his anti-corruption campaign. Five years into office, Duterte has fired only rank-and-file workers and a few high-level bureaucrats.

He still has to put behind bars some people he had appointed to executive positions.

When cornered by strong public opinion, Duterte fires officials, but recycles them back to another position where there are bigger opportunities for corruption.

Heidi Mendoza, a former COA commissioner, couldn’t explain what happened to the health department. In the past, she said, it was a model for all executive departments in complying with government accounting procedures.

She used to cite the health department as an example during her lectures, so she was baffled over what had happened considering that Duque was also the health chief when it was performing well during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Duque’s health department under Duterte has racked up several spending deficiencies. The most prominent question was why it did not release funds to pay healthcare workers’ allowances when it had all the money. It even returned to the treasury the unspent funds.

Duque’s agency was heavily scrutinized as it is at the forefront of the government’s fight against the rising cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The two houses of Congress have opened an inquiry into why so many healthcare workers — about 150,000 doctors, nurses and allied health workers — have not received allowances under the Bayanihan laws.

Senators zeroed in on why the health department transferred P42 billion to the procurement arm of the budget and management department, headed by a lawyer who has ties to Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, to buy face masks, face shields, testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPEs).

The lawyer worked in Go’s office before he was elected as senator in 2019, although the senator has denied working with the lawyer in Malacañan Palace.

The lawyer, who has left his government position, has to do a lot of explaining after buying overpriced face masks and face shields using the health department’s transferred funds.

Other executive departments have more serious deficiencies, like buying sanitary napkins in a hardware store, acquiring tech equipment and accessories like wifi gadgets from a construction company, and building tourism-related projects in an agency in-charge of the country’s ports.

The COA findings are not at all surprising and shocking because these government agencies do these things every year.

For instance, the health department has been overstocking its warehouses with non-essential materials, buying medicines that are about to expire, keeping them and not distributing them until they are all expired.

COA has called the health department’s attention since 2017 over this kind of activity, and Duque has repeatedly failed to correct the procurement process.

These repeated deficiencies indicate that something is wrong in the bureaucracy. Heads of agencies and other officials think they can always get away from these irregularities and get an exemption from sanctions.

It’s also a form of impunity, more dangerous and deadly than what the law enforcement agencies have done since 2016. The police killed drug suspects but this form of impunity is killing the whole country. Funds earmarked for healthcare workers were not distributed and overpriced, and undelivered supplies could have been used to help many people.

Duterte is encouraging his officials to continue doing these highly irregular practices. Instead of making sure funds are protected and used judiciously, he has lambasted state auditors for giving his administration a bad image, fueling perceptions of corruption.

Before he was elected, he promised to stop corruption. He even warned officials they would be removed on just a whiff of corruption.

But all this was lip service. Duterte still has to crack his whip to improve his government’s image.

In 2016, he promised to end the drug menace in six months. The problem continued to persist. He promised to end corruption but it worsened under his watch.

Fighting corruption must start from the top. Duterte is a complete failure.