MANILA, Philippines – Philippine lawmakers on Monday killed an impeachment complaint accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of crimes against humanity for the thousands of people who have died in his anti-drug crackdown.
The Justice Committee of the House of Representatives, which is dominated by Duterte allies, declared during the first hearing on the matter that while the complaint was sufficient in form, there was insufficient substance to proceed.
The decision to stop the impeachment complaint, which also accused Duterte of murder, corruption and unexplained wealth, was expected. But the president’s critics hope the procedure could bolster a lawsuit against him before the International Criminal Court for alleged extrajudicial killings by showing that domestic efforts to stop Duterte have failed.
The dismissal of the complaint, filed in March, bars any new impeachment case against Duterte until next March.
Since taking office in June, Duterte’s war on drugs has killed 7,000-9,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts, according to human rights groups. The government refutes that, releasing data on May 2 showing nearly 4,600 people have been killed in police anti-drug operations and homicides found to be drug-related.
During Monday’s hearing, Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, the majority floor leader, questioned Rep. Gary Alejano on whether he had personal knowledge of allegations he made in his complaint, including the more than 8,000 people killed in the anti-drug war and the billions of pesos supposedly in Duterte’s bank accounts.
Alejano said he had no personal knowledge as a witness, but that he had personal knowledge as a complainant based on official records, affidavits of witnesses and Duterte’s public pronouncements. His appeals to be allowed to explain were rejected.
Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman urged the committee to allow Alejano to be heard, saying to determine substance, there only needs to be a recital of facts on offences charged and determination that they are under the committee’s jurisdiction.
“While it is true that an impeachment proceeding is a political exercise, it is not a partisan enterprise,” Lagman said.
After an executive session, several lawmakers pointed to Alejano’s lack of personal knowledge about the alleged crimes, calling his allegations hearsay. Forty-two of 49 committee members then voted to declare the complaint sufficient in form but insufficient in substance.
A frustrated Alejano told reporters that he’ll discuss with his colleagues from the Magdalo party whether they should file their own complaint before the ICC.
He said it was clear that the procedure “was railroaded” and that the House “is not independent.”
“Now that they have killed the impeachment, which is the only way for the people to hold the president accountable, where will we exact justice from him, he is immune to suits,” Alejano said.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said that Alejano’s complaint “was from rehashed, trumped-up charges aimed at undermining the duly constituted government.”