Rodrigo Duterte is digging his own grave. The more he opens his mouth to defend his daughter’s scrapped confidential and intelligence funds, the deeper the hole he digs.
Duterte may have forgotten he is no longer the president who is immune from lawsuits.
When he threatens to kill a member of the House of Representative in one of his broadcasts, he opens himself to a lawsuit.
When he was president for six years, he could get away with his threats to kill illegal drug traders, peddlers, and addicts.
He had immunity in the Philippines. But not before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and before the international human rights community.
The ICC had taken note of the threats he had made and the admissions of the killings he had ordered from the time he was mayor of Davao City.
Human rights groups, including a Redemptorist priest, Rev. Fr. Amado Picardal, had documented nearly 1,500 extrajudicial killings in Davao from the early 1990s until Duterte was elected into office as president in 2016.
In between, when he was Davao City congressman and vice mayor to his daughter, the extrajudicial killings in the city declined. But they went up every time he was in power.
The killings became more widespread when he was elected president. Even before he took his oath as president on June 30, 2016, the killings started in the capital region.
Duterte got used to threatening to kill the poor, the powerless, and the petty criminals.
From 2016 until his term ended in 2022, the Philippine National Police acknowledged more than 6,000 deaths in drug-related operations, all in self-defense.
But forensic evidence and testimonies showed otherwise. Most of those killed were actually executed.
There were a few who survived the executions and narrated how police operatives made up stories of sting operations that resulted in shoot outs.
The most blatant was the killing of a Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside a detention cell in Baybay, Leyte in November 2016.
Police claimed Espinosa died in a shootout inside his cell, a hard-to-believe tale.
As a detainee, how could he have access to guns and why would he resist when he was already in a prison cell?
Anyway, the 19 police officers who were part of the operation that killed Espinosa were acquitted by a court.
Duterte was so powerful at that time that he controlled the police, the courts, and the entire country though fear.
No one dared challenge him. Those who did either died or were thrown to jail, like former senator Leila de Lima.
ABS-CBN, which used to be the country’s largest broadcast network, also paid a higher price for reporting the human rights violations and corruption under Duterte.
But Duterte’s power came to an end in 2022 when Ferdinand Marcos Jr, whom he had counted as an ally because of close ties with his daughter, rose to power.
As an ordinary citizen, Duterte no longer enjoys immunity from lawsuits and protection from his allies in the lower house of Congress.
He has been reduced to making threats and rants in a television network with lesser reach and following.
Duterte’s bravado was, at first, a novelty for a Filipino president. People laughed at his jokes and were amused hearing the leader of nation cursing the US president, the Pope, and his critics and detractors.
But this might have also ended when he returned as an ordinary citizen in Davao.
Apart from traveling to China, Duterte would rather remain in Davao City, as he did not want to risk getting hauled to The Hague when the ICC issues an international warrant for his crimes against humanity.
Officially, the government said only 6,000 died in the war on drugs, but the human rights community said the death toll could be from 12,000 to 30,000 people.
The late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., would look tamer than the genocidal Duterte. More than 3,000 were killed during the decades Marcos was in power and more than 10,000 were jailed, tortured and involuntarily disappeared during his iron-fisted regime.
All this pale in comparison to Duterte who has not learned his lesson and continued to threaten his and his daughter’s critics.
Rep. France Castro of ACT Teachers party-list has the right to go after Duterte who had threatened her in national television for opposing Sara Duterte’s confidential and intelligence funds under the 2024 national budget.
The country’s legal system as well as law enforcement agencies face a litmus test in arresting and prosecuting Duterte for grave threats.
Once the court finds probable cause, it can issue an arrest warrant, but will the police arrest a former president?
No one is above the law. Duterte knows that as a lawyer but he’s too arrogant to flaunt his power and influence.
Duterte’s foul mouth has gotten him into trouble many times in the past as president. But he hid behind his immunity.
Now that he is a just an ordinary citizen, he has become more vulnerable.
Congress, now controlled by the president’s cousin, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, has demonstrated that Duterte has lost his power and influence.
First, the House of Representatives agreed to remove Sara’s 650 million pesos in confidential and intelligence funds in the 2024 budget and realigned it to the security services.
Second, lawmakers in the lower house called out Duterte for making threats against a sitting member of Congress.
These are unthinkable circumstances if Duterte was still in power. There were still a few lawmakers in the Senate who continue to defend Duterte and Sara.
They said the threats were a figure of speech. But that won’t hold water because Duterte was really mad at Congresswoman Castro for opposing the confidential and intelligence funds.
Suddenly, majority of lawmakers are behind Castro. Well, thanks to the Speaker who is at odds with the Dutertes.
There is an open war between the Dutertes and the Marcos camps. The lines are clearly drawn in the sand.
Eight senators are still behind the Dutertes – Francis Tolentino, Ronald dela Rosa, Christopher Lawrence Go, Robinhood Padilla, Imee Marcos, Sherwin Gatchalian, Pia Cayetano, and Allan Peter Cayetano.
They may become the next political opposition in the 2024 midterm elections.
But the political landscape may still change depending on domestic and external factors.
An ICC arrest warrant, which includes Duterte’s daughter and close allies in Congress, might work against the Dutertes.
An open warfare with the Marcos camp will make Duterte more vulnerable.
The next presidential elections may be years away but the battle lines have been drawn very early.