MANILA, Philippines – Democratic political parties in Asia are keeping an eye on the allegedly evolving autocratic rule of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as seen in his and his allies’ supposed attempts to threaten the country’s democratic institutions.
This was according to Sen. Leila de Lima, who last Thursday was visited in her detention cell in Camp Crame, Quezon City by leaders of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) Women’s Caucus.
The senator said that during their visit, CALD leaders led by the group’s chairperson Jayanthi Balaguru of the Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Malaysian People’s Movement Party), discussed with her “the very dubious moves against Ombudsman Morales and Chief Justice Sereno – putting in question the full term of office of the former and the filing of impeachment complaint versus the latter.”
With Balaguru were Emily Lau, former chair of the Hongkong Democratic Party and Maysing Yang, vice president o the International Network of Liberal Women and Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.
CALD leaders “also noted how our democratic institutions, including the media, are now being threatened under the growing authoritarian rule of Duterte,” De Lima said.
The chief executive and his allies recently either questioned the leadership or moved for the ouster of heads of independent government offices, who were appointed by Duterte’s predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III.
Duterte nixes full term for Morales
Last Tuesday, Aug. 29, Duterte said Ombudsman Cochita Carpio-Morales wasn’t entitled to a full seven-year-term, because she “is supposed to serve the remaining terms of the guy who resigned, not to a full term,” referring to Merceditas Gutierrez, who quit her post in April 2011.
But according to Morales, whose term will expire in July 2018, Section 8, paragraph 3 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 states that, “When the ombudsman leaves the office by reason of death, removal, or permanent disability, the overall deputy ombudsman shall be acting ombudsman until a new ombudsman is appointed, who shall serve a full term.”
Ouster moves against Sereno, Bautista
On Thursday, Aug. 31, 25 members of the House of Representatives endorsed the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno filed by lawyer Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon, president of Pro-Duterte Constitutional Reformers to Federalism and volunteer counsel for pro-administration group Duterte Youth.
Gadon was able to substantiate his allegations against Sereno after the high court en banc granted his request to be given copies of several court records and documents, which included the list of official domestic and foreign travels of the chief justice and her companions in her trips.
The documents included Sereno’s detailed expenses such as airfare, accommodations, and all kinds of allowances.
Also, earlier this month, an impeachment complaint endorsed by at least three House members was filed against Commission on Elections chief Andres Bautista, who was earlier accused by his estranged wife, Patricia Cruz-Bautista, of amassing P1-billion ill-gotten wealth. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has extended state protection to Patricia.
Threat vs CHR
Last July, Duterte threatened to abolish the Commission on Human Rights, saying he would “not allow” policemen and soldiers to go to the CHR to be investigated. The CHR, chaired by former Liberal Party (LP) director general Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon, has been criticizing the administration over the allegedly worsening human rights abuses in the country as a result of Duterte’s war on drugs campaign.
But Duterte, the following month, took back his threat against the commission and said that he was just joking.
“Itong human rights, sabi ko, biro lang naman ‘yong sinabi kong I will abolish you. I need Congress to do that,” the President said.
De Lima’s detention
On February 24, De Lima, a member of the LP and Duterte’s top critic since he was mayor of Davao City, was arrested and detained after drug-related charges were filed against her by the DOJ.
Before her arrest, De Lima, as chair of the Senate Justice Committee, led the Upper Chamber in investigating Duterte’s alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings through the vigilante group Davao Death Squad (DDS), which the President allegedly formed while he was Davao mayor.
In 2009, when De Lima was still CHR chief, she likewise led an investigation into summary killings also allegedly perpetrated by the DDS.
On Friday, De Lima said she was “grateful that many people have expressed and continued to vouch for my integrity” ins spite of the relentless attacks and outright lies thrown against me by the evil Duterte regime to destroy my dignity and womanhood.”
She said CALD leaders had expressed “concern” over her continued detention and that “they believe, and rightly so, that I was detained on politically-motivated and trumped-up charges.”
“They firmly hold the view that such travesty of justice is unprecedented here in the Philippines which has long been considered a model for democracy in Asia,” said De Lima.
“Together with other highly reputable and international organizations, CALD has also condemned the brazen killings in our country that has claimed over 12,000 lives, as well as the relentless political persecution against me by this vindictive President,” she added.