March 16, 2017 / 3:41 AM / 6 months ago

Philippine lawmaker seeks Duterte impeachment for abuse of power

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shows pictures of mines during a news conference in Manila, Philippines March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro/Files

MANILA (Reuters) - An opposition lawmaker filed an impeachment complaint in the Philippine Congress on Thursday against President Rodrigo Duterte, calling for his removal for what he said were high crimes, betrayal of public trust and abuses of power.

Lower house representative Gary Alejano accused Duterte of a laundry list of what he said were impeachable offences, from conflicts of interest and assets concealment to drugs-related extrajudicial killings and operating a “death squad” during the 22 years he was Davao City mayor.

Duterte’s lawyer, Salvador Panelo, called it baseless “black propaganda”, adding the impeachment bid “will not fly, nor will it make a dent on the overwhelming popularity” of the president.

Alejano said his aim was to give Filipinos a chance to speak up against a powerful president who had overstepped the mark.

“Our goal with this complaint is to be a vehicle for Filipinos to have a voice to oppose and fight against the abuses and crimes of President Duterte,” Alejano told a televised news conference.

“We know it’s an uphill battle ... but we believe that many will support this.”

The impeachment effort is the first against Duterte since he took office eight months ago. Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo survived five such motions.

Duterte has few powerful opponents and challenges against him have come from the same people. Though the allegations are serious and attract media attention, none have stuck.

POPULAR MANDATE

Critics say the lack of dissent is due to a climate of fear that has prevailed under the popular, no-nonsense leader, who is defended fiercely by his huge online support base.

The government often cites his high approval rating and his electoral mandate in rebuffing international criticism about his bloody war on drugs, during which more than 8,000 people have been killed.

About 2,500 of those were in police raids and sting operations and the authorities vigorously deny involvement in thousands of mysterious killings of drug users.

Alejano accused Duterte of having a state policy of killing drug suspects and a “culpable violation of the constitution, engaging in bribery, betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption and other high crimes”.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the move was part of a wider plot to undermine the Duterte administration.

“It seems rather dramatic that everything seems to be so coordinated at this stage,” Abella told reporters.

“It looks like they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Duterte has been fast consolidating power in the bicameral Congress and Alejano accepted his impeachment bid may not get much traction. He submitted it just as Congress goes into a six-week recess.

He wants the complaint to embolden the church, civil society, academia and Filipinos who did not vote for Duterte or favour his policies to know they can take on the president.

“We know the numbers are against us, and we are facing a big challenge,” he said.

Lower house speaker and Duterte ally Pantaleon Alvarez said Alejano would fail, but should still be allowed to exercise his rights.

“We are all entitled to our own stupidity,” he added.

Additional reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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