Is Rodrigo Duterte guilty of treason?

The question is immediately clad with infirmity. The Philippines has no existing law that prosecutes the crime of treason in times of peace. If the act happened when he was president, he can be protected by presidential immunity.

A man as cleverly adroit with the loopholes of the law as he was, Duterte was probably aware of that. As prosecutor of Davao city, he knew how to plant evidence – and get away with it. That was confirmed by his performance as president – Duterte is a devious man when it comes to unreasonably running around the law. He ruled as king, not as president. He ruled as culprit, not as lawyer.

Constitutions are enacted on a premise that a president is not a king.

The concept of presidential immunity is not explicitly spelled out in the 1987 Constitution. However, it is affirmed by jurisprudence (David vs. Arroyo, De Lima vs. Duterte cases). Having said that, there is nothing that can stop anyone from hailing Duterte to court for abuse of power only to test the limits of the law. Judges create jurisprudence.

The move of the House of Representatives to probe Duterte’s secret deal with Xi Jin Ping is a step in the right direction. Of course it is a highly charged political move by the Martin Romualdez House, but is there any other way to exact accountability from Duterte who ruled as a tyrant and who weaponized the law against his critics? It is better than absolving Duterte and granting him the privileges of impunity, as he so desires.

The Zubiri Senate, on the other hand, wishes to renege on its oversight powers. That is also a highly charged political move, but a politically incorrect one given the very high propensity of Filipinos’ distrust for Red China (5 out of 10 Filipinos, making it the most distrusted country among Filipinos).

Red China has now publicized that secret agreement. What was it all about? It says that during Duterte’s 2016 visit to Peking, he agreed with Red China to allow only “small scale fishing around the islands but restricted access by military, coast guard and other official planes and ships to the 12 nautical mile (22 kilometer) limit of territorial waters.” Imagine the horror of his assent to Red Chinese dictation.

Red China justifies making the revelation only now because it says the Philippines respected the Xi-Duterte agreement the past seven years. But that does not sound like a credible reason. In fact, that is a lie.

Remember the June 2019 incident of the civilian fishing boat Gem-Vir 1 of the Occidental Mindoro fishermen? A Red Chinese trawler, the Yuemaobinyu 42212, had rammed the Gem-Vir while it was sitting at anchor in Recto Bank, causing it to sink. The steel-hulled Red Chinese trawler circled the sinking fishermen then sailed away. It was a literal hit-and-run incident. Nota bene: the Reed or Recto Bank is part of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Red Chinese lie was also proven earlier in June 2018. Video footage of GMA News surfaced of the Red China Coast Guard habitually taking the catch of Zambales fishermen at Scarborough Shoal. Cameras the fishermen had hidden from the Red Chinese caught the incident.

Fisherman Roseller Latagen said the Red Chinese Coast Guard would take as much as “P3,000 worth of their catch and pay them two small bottles of mineral water,” sometimes with beer or cigarettes.

The more credible reason for Red China’s belated revelation could have been that it knew Duterte was making an impeachable act with the secret agreement. By revealing it only now, when his period of liability to impeachment is over, is an act of protecting Duterte. If it lost Duterte to impeachment during his term of office, it would have lost a most loyal ally of Red China.

More than an ally, in fact and in praxis. For there is no doubt that Duterte acted like a vassal of Red China. He entered into an agreement that was hostile to Philippine territorial integrity. That is clear.

Furthermore, Duterte clearly undermined the oversight power of the legislative branch as prescribed in the 1987 Constitution (Article VII Section 21: No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate). He evaded that constitutional prescription. It was an abuse and aggrandizement of his executive power that could have constituted another article for impeachment.

What then are the social situations to convict Duterte in the court of public opinion?

When he was president, critics of his drug war’s extrajudicial killings were demonized as drug addicts, criminals, morons and imbeciles. For one, Leila de Lima who was locked up behind bars on trumped up charges of benefitting from drug trade money. The Duterte fake news army invented all sorts of deceit to have her vilified, including fake sex videos. It was the same tactic used against critical individuals. Unbridled Duterte power succeeded by intimidation.

Out of power however, public opinion on Dutertismo has become less and less opaque from trollist absurdity. For example, his accountability in the International Criminal Court has grown tremendously to his disfavor.

Over a year ago in March 2023, the Social Weather Station conducted a survey on whether the Marcos Jr. administration should allow the International Criminal Court to probe the extrajudicial killings of the Duterte regime. The result was 48% in favor.

A year later in February 2024, 56% of the respondents said they favored ICC probers to enter the country. Only 19% disagreed, while 25% were undecided. That shows those in favor now constitute the majority.

The SWS was not alone. Also in February this year, OCTA Research Group found that majority of Filipinos want the government not only to cooperate with the ongoing ICC investigation (55%), but that 59% agree that the Philippines should rejoin the ICC.

During Duterte’s last months in power, there already were windows of public opinion change. The WR Numero Research poll conducted in March 2022 showed many national issues skewed in favor of Duterte (drug war, Build Build Build, etc.). However, 45.13% of 1,200 Filipinos polled wanted the succeeding administration to deviate from Duterte’s soft approach with Red China.

Let us convict Rodrigo Duterte in the court of public opinion. That conviction should extend to all of his children. No Duterte – no traitors for that matter — should ever be elected to public office again.

It is a patriotic duty.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.