The looming arrest of Duterte and the 2025 elections

The main character and three of the supporting cast in the ICC trial of Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.

The looming issuance of arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for former president Rodrigo Duterte and his accomplices in his deadly war on drugs is expected to impact tremendously in the 2025 midterm and the 2028 presidential elections.
Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who was the first to bring Duterte’s crimes to the ICC way back in 2017, said the warrants of arrest could be served later this month or early July.

He said, according to his sources privy to the workings of the ICC, the serving of the arrest warrants will be done by batch. The former president will be the first one to be served.

The second batch would most likely include Vice President Sara Duterte and Sens. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa and Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go.

The third batch would likely be the police officials who led in the implementation of Duterte’s war on drugs that claimed the lives of some 30,000. (Government figures put those who were killed during police operations at 6,000.)

There were rumors last year about a possible cooperation of former PNP chief Oscar Albayalde with the ICC, but it turned out to be false.

Duterte and those involved in the war on drugs are subject of an investigation for crimes against humanity in the Philippines covering the period from Nov. 1, 2011 (when he was Davao City mayor) to March 16, 2019 (when the Philippines withdrew from the ICC).

Trillanes said the ICC investigators have completed their collection of evidence and are now set to issue warrants of arrest to ensure the participation of the accused in the trial.

Duterte has said several times that he will not submit to the ICC’s jurisdiction, ignorantly describing the international court as composed of “white people.”

His strategy for evading the inevitable serving of an arrest warrant has become pathetic, even laughable. In the beginning, he tried to be useful to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., with his loyalists Bong Go and Sen. Alan Cayetano suggesting that he be appointed special envoy to China, given his closeness to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

When that didn’t work, he resorted to putting pressure on Marcos using the objectionable Charter change issue. The public knows better. Charter change is a legitimate issue but Duterte, having advocated that previously, is not a credible rallying figure. This is best shown by the dwindling attendance in his rallies. Also, the prospect of having Sara Duterte — with her unexplained P125 million confidential fund and dismal performance as Education secretary — as president if Marcos is toppled before 2028 scares concerned citizens.

Dela Rosa is doing his own thing with his senseless investigation of the leak by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency of the president’s alleged drug use as exposed by Duterte.

In what is seen by many as a distraction to Duterte’s accountability in the bloody drug war, his son, Paolo, who is Davao City representative, has filed a resolution seeking a congressional investigation into the alleged extrajudicial killings in the country for the last 25 years.

Marcos has, so far, dangled the ICC sword, effectively confusing not only Duterte and his allies but also the public. The question on everybody’s mind: Will Marcos allow the arrest of Duterte and his accomplices by the ICC?

Trillanes said that scenario might not happen because he believes Duterte will flee to China for sanctuary. Remember, in August last year Duterte met with Xi in Beijing when he thought a warrant of arrest would be issued with the decision of the ICC to reject the Philippine government’s appeal to stop the investigation.

How about Sara? And Dela Rosa and Go, who are due for reelection in the 2025 elections?

Will the arrest, if it happens, gain them sympathy or lead to their political oblivion?

Abangan.

Why China blocks bringing of construction supplies to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal

When former president Rodrigo Duterte agreed with Chinese President Xi Jin Ping to not repair the BRP Sierra Madre, he was, in fact, abandoning the Marines valiantly manning the rusting ship, which has become a heroic symbol of the Philippine’s resistance against the creeping invasion by China.

In an interview on ABS-CBN after another water-cannoning of the rotation and reprovisioning (RORE) vessel bound for Ayungin Shoal on March 23, Harry Roque, former spokesperson of Duterte, disclosed that the former president and Xi had “a gentleman’s agreement.”

“Ito’y oral [agreement] sa panahon ni [dating] presidente Duterte na ang parehong panig, ang Tsina’t Pilipinas, ay rerespetuhin ang status quo; ibig sabihin, kung ano ‘yung naroroon na, walang dagdag, walang bawas,” Roque said.

(It was an oral agreement during the time of [former] president Duterte in which both sides, China and the Philippines, will respect the status quo; which means, what is there, nothing will be added, nothing will be subtracted.)

Roque said he learned about the agreement in 2018, when Duterte called China’s ambassador to Malacañang after a Chinese ship sprayed water cannon on a RORE vessel bound for Ayungin Shoal. The envoy claimed that “papayagan nilang dalhan ng tubig at pagkain, hindi ang pagpapadala ng materyales for repair ng BRP Sierra Madre.”

(They will agree to the bringing of water and food, but not materials for the repair of BRP Sierra Madre.)
This is underscored in the statements of the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokespersons to justify the Chinese blocking of RORE vessels: “This Philippine resupply mission is not to send necessities, but to bring construction materials to the military vessel illegally grounded at Ren’ai Jiao for its repair and reinforcement in an attempt to build a permanent outpost on China’s uninhabited reef so as to permanently and illegally occupy Ren’ai Jiao.“

Why is China violently opposing the repair of BRP Sierra Madre?

Ayungin Shoal (international name is Second Thomas Shoal; Chinese name, Rén’ài Jiāo ) is a low- tide elevation (meaning, it’s underwater during high tide) in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. It is 105 nautical miles from Palawan and is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. China claims it belongs to Nansha Qundao or Spratlys, which is part of its territory based on its discredited nine-dash line map.

Ayungin Shoal is doubly important to China because it is 21 nautical miles from Mischief Reef (Philippine name, Panganiban Reef; Chinese name, Meiji Jiao), which China occupied in 1995 during the presidency of the late Fidel Ramos and has since developed a military base there complete with an airport.

In retaliation, the Philippine Navy, under the Estrada administration, intentionally grounded he BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.
Built in 1944, the 100-meter long BRP Sierra Madre was originally a World War II vintage US Landing Ship Tank (LSTs). It saw action during the Vietnam War as USS Harnett County. In 1976, it was transferred to the Philippine Navy.

Despite its dilapidated state, BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal is a constant source of annoyance to China. Countless times, Chinese officials have told the Philippines to remove it. They would have done so themselves if not for potential politically serious consequences.

BRP Sierra Madre is Philippine territory

BRP Sierra Madre is “a commissioned Philippine naval vessel.” A country’s naval ship is considered part of its territory.
If China touches or steps on any part of BRP Sierra Madre, it would be an act of war. It has to reckon with the 1951 PH-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty which states in part, “Each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes. “
The treaty also says, “… an armed attack on either of the parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a visit to Manila on March 20, reiterated the current U.S. assurance that its “iron-clad” commitment under the MDT “extends to armed attacks on the Filipino armed forces, public vessels, aircraft – including those of its coast guard – anywhere in the South China Sea.”

Nobody wants an armed clash between China and the United States in the South China Sea. That would be a catastrophe. Not even China, despite its strong warning that “if the Philippines does not change course, China will continue to take resolute steps to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

Hoping and waiting for the worst for BRP Sierra Madre

What China wants is for BRP Sierra Madre to decay fast and become uninhabitable. The eight Marines stationed there would be forced to abandon it. That would pave the way for China to occupy Ayungin Shoal, which is just 105 nautical miles west of Palawan.

Duterte’s agreement with China to not bring construction materials for the repair of BRP Sierra Madre supports China’s desired scenario. That was surrender.

In effect, Duterte abandoned the patriotic and courageous Marines to the mercy of China. That was abandonment of his sworn duty to protect and serve the people. It’s treason.

This column also appeared in Malaya Business Insight, VERA Files

Duterte’s attempt to use China card aborted by Chinese ships’ water-cannon act

Pres. Ferdinand Marcos receives former Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang Aug. 2.

The attempt by former president Rodrigo Duterte to use the China card to gain a prominent role in the Marcos administration and protect himself from the International Criminal Court got aborted just when his cohorts in the Senate were about to launch it.

The embarrassing thing about the flop is that it was his benefactor, China, that ruined it. That was the water cannoning by Chinese ships of the Philippine boats bringing supplies to the Marines on Ayungin Shoal.

Duterte’s plan to use the China card was manifested on July 17 when Xinhua, China’s news agency, reported the meeting of the former president with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It came on the eve of ICC’s release of its decision rejecting the petition of the Philippine government to stop the probe on the killings that constitute crime against humanity related to Duterte’s war on drugs. The investigation includes the period when he was mayor of Davao City.

Malacañang was not informed about Duterte’s trip to Beijing. Actually, a former president is a private citizen and is not required to inform Malacañang of his personal activities. But since he was meeting with an incumbent leader of another country, propriety dictates that the Office of the President be informed about it.

But then propriety has never been Duterte’s strong suit.

There were even talks that the Beijing trip was a precautionary move by Duterte to evade a possible warrant of arrest just in case ICC decides to issue it following its decision to continue the probe.

The Xinhua report said Xi praised Duterte’s “strategic choice of improving relations with China” when he was president and expressed the hope “that Duterte will continue to play an important role in the friendly cooperation between the two countries.”

Shortly after the former president’s return from Beijing, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, Foreign secretary during the Duterte presidency, suggested making Duterte “the country’s special envoy to China to help reach out on a back-channel basis given his good standing with the Chinese government.”

This was immediately supported by Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, who is named in one of the documents submitted to the ICC as having played a major role in the killings.

The ICC probe documents said that Go, who served as executive assistant and personal aide to then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, on several instances, was the one who relayed the latter’s orders to kill to the Davao Death Squad, which was allegedly carrying out the extrajudicial killings for the local chief executive.

On Aug. 2, Duterte, accompanied by Go and former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea, went to see President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Malacañang.

The report of the Presidential Communications Office on the meeting said: “Aside from discussing Duterte’s meeting with Xi, the two leaders also talked about other issues. The former president likewise gave some good pieces of advice to President Marcos.”

It was Sen. JV Ejercito who shared with ANC what Marcos told him about the meeting with Duterte. According to Ejercito, Duterte told Marcos that he told Xi, “Please be kind to my country.”

This is horrifying! Why would the Philippines seek kindness from China? We should demand respect and adherence to the rule of law, not kindness.

Such a subservient attitude towards China is not surprising from Duterte, and should disqualify him from the position of special envoy to China.

Apparently, Duterte’s appeal to Xi fell on deaf ears because on Aug. 5, the Philippine Coast Guard reported “the China Coast Guard’s (CCG’s) dangerous maneuvers and illegal use of water cannons against the PCG vessels escorting the indigenous boats chartered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines” bringing supplies to the Marines in the grounded BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The latest hostile act of Chinese ships against Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea drew condemnations from several countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United States.

Since then nothing was heard from the Cayetano-Go recommended “special envoy to China.”

VP Sara, 2 senators named in ICC probe documents

Former president Rodrigo Duterte with daughter Vice President Sara and Sen. Bong Go in a 2019 photo when they attended the enthronement of Japanese Emperor Naruhito. Malacañang photo

Aside from former president Rodrigo Duterte, Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio and two incumbent senators were named in documents submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating the killings related to the drug war during the previous administration and when Duterte was mayor of Davao City, a copy of the documents obtained by VERA Files shows.

The vice president’s name was mentioned as knowing and approving the killings when she was city mayor, a post that her father held for more than 20 years. Sara was mayor from 2010 to 2013, and from 2016 to 2022.

A person knowledgeable of the ICC probe said she could be issued a “summons” by the ICC. If she would not comply with the summons, she would be issued a warrant of arrest.

This is the first time the name of Sara was mentioned in the documents relevant to the ICC investigation.

VERA Files sent messages to the OVP, her spokesperson and media officer for her side, but got only an automated reply from the OVP acknowledging receipt of the email and that it has been forwarded to the concerned unit for appropriate action. Her spokesperson also acknowledged VERA Files’ request sent by text.

On July 18, 7:51 p.m. Sara’s information officer Jefrey Tupas sent a text message: “No comment.”

Bong Go
Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the former president’s longtime aide, was mentioned at least 70 times and Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, at least 90 times in a 186-page affidavit by a person who had knowledge of Duterte’s bloody style of governance but had asked not to be identified.

Once included in the investigation, Dela Rosa and Go could be issued warrants of arrest by the ICC.
Several other names were mentioned in the documents that covered at least 100 killings that happened mostly in Davao City when Rodrigo was mayor.

The probe on the killings related to the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs continues after the the ICC on July 18 rejected the Philippine government’s appeal to stop the investigation.

According to the documents with the ICC, during the years when Go served as executive assistant and personal aide to then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, he, on several instances, was the one who relayed the former’s orders to kill to the Davao Death Squad, which was allegedly carrying out the extrajudicial killings for the local chief executive.

Some of the kill orders were unrelated to the anti-illegal drug campaign. Rodrigo served as Davao City mayor for 22 years, from 1988 to 2016, broken only by years when he held other elective positions (1998-2001, member of the House of Representatives and 2010-2013, vice mayor).

The documents also contained a report of two separate killings, which were allegedly ordered by Go, and “cleared and approved by Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte.” One was the murder of Primo Nilles, driver of businessman Jon Gaisano, whose wife Ana Nilles was one of the suspects in a cash pilferage in Gaisano’s business establishment. The other was the killing of second-hand truck importer Christopher Yu sometime in 2013 or 2014.

Go held a powerful position during the Duterte presidency as gatekeeper for the chief executive. Even when he was elected senator in 2019, he was always seen in almost all the activities of the president.
VERA Files tried to get the side of Go by email and text but has not received any reply as of July 17.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte in an April 2019 photo campaigning for Bato Dela Rosa and Bong Go who were running for seats in the Senate.Malacañang photo


‘Bato’ Dela Rosa

Dela Rosa was Davao City police chief from 2012 to 2013 under then-mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is now vice president. He previously held other positions such as station commander and intelligence division chief under the Davao City Police Office from 1992 to 1997, when the elder Duterte was the city mayor.

In the documents, it was alleged that Dela Rosa formed his own death squad to carry out anti-illegal drug operations in Davao.

As chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), he presided over Duterte’s bloody war on drugs from 2016 up to 2018, which saw the killings of some 30,000, according to the estimates by human rights groups. Police admit to some 6,000 killed in drug war operations.

VERA Files also tried to get the side of Dela Rosa but has not received a reply as of July 17.

Dela Rosa had said that he was not afraid of the ICC investigation as the Netherlands-based court no longer has jurisdiction on the Philippines. However, the police chief-turned-senator admitted avoiding traveling to countries he perceives to be “loyal” to the ICC to evade potentially getting arrested should the court issue a warrant for him.

“Hindi ako takot. Alam ko naman na walang mangyayari diyan kung hindi lang ako lalabas sa ating bansa … just in case pupunta ako sa ibang bansa at huhulihin ako doon, nandiyan na si Sen. [Francis] Tolentino to the rescue para mag-represent sa akin sa kahaharapin ko,” Dela Rosa said last March

[I’m not afraid. I know that nothing would happen as long as I don’t go outside the country … just in case I go to another country and I will be arrested there, Sen. [Francis] Tolentino will be there to rescue and represent me.]

Senators Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go during a hearing by the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development on January 28, 2020. Senate photo by Alex Nueva España

Although it lacks police power, the ICC relies on its 123 member states to cooperate in enforcing its arrest warrants. It can also seek the help of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) by issuing a request to its 195 member countries, including the Philippines, to arrest a wanted individual. Still, it is entirely subject to Philippine discretion to implement an Interpol request.
ICC approval of investigation

In September 2021, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I granted the request of former prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to launch a full-blown probe into the alleged crimes against humanity in the Duterte administration’s drug war from July 2016 to March 16, 2019. It also allowed the probe to cover the alleged killings and related crimes in the Davao region from November 2011 to June 2016 by the “Davao Death Squad.”

The Pre-Trial Chamber is a judicial body in the ICC that permits the court’s prosecutor to conduct or resume an investigation. It also issues arrest warrants or summonses to those wanted of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes.

In her 57-page investigation request, Bensouda named Duterte for ordering the implementation of the drug war and publicly expressing support for the killing of suspected drug personalities.

She said other officials who used a similar rhetoric include Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who once said that “the criminals, the drug lords, drug pushers, they are not humanity”. Aguirre denied that he ever said drug lords “are not humans.”

Duterte’s first two PNP chiefs — Dela Rosa and Ronald Albayalde — were also named for implementing Duterte’s drug war. Bensouda said Albayalde, who replaced Dela Rosa in April 2018, publicly declared his commitment to continue Dela Rosa’s drug war upon assuming the top PNP post.

Bensouda made the investigation request to the Pre-Trial chamber a month before her term ended on June 15, 2021, with British lawyer Karim Khan succeeding her. Her launching of a preliminary examination into the drug war killings in February 2018 was followed by Duterte’s order to withdraw the Philippines as an ICC member, which took effect on March 16, 2019.

Duterte has consistently questioned the jurisdiction of the ICC to investigate him.

PH government appeal

In its appeal to reverse the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber allowing Bensouda’s successor Khan to resume the drug war investigation on Jan. 26, the government insisted on the ICC’s lack of jurisdiction over the Philippines because it has ceased being a member since March 17, 2018.

Invoking the principle of complementarity where the ICC may exercise jurisdiction only when domestic legal systems fail to do so, or a state is unwilling or unable to genuinely carry out proceedings, the government cited a few cases that have found guilty policemen who were involved in extrajudicial killings in drug operations such as in the murder of 17-year old Kian de los Santos in 2017.

However, the Appeals Chamber, which hears appeals on decisions on jurisdiction or admissibility, was not impressed saying the Philippine courts “only address the physical, low-ranking perpetrators and at present do not extend to any high-ranking officials.”

Reacting to the rejection by the ICC of the government’s appeal,President Marcos reiterated his government’s position not to cooperate in the ICC probe.

Fr. Flavie’s Program Paghilum

Dutch ambassador gives ashes to son of the victim. Photo by Vincent Go.

“I think he is into drugs.”

Fr. Flavie Villanueva was referring to Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, who suggested on May 23 that former president Rodrigo Duterte be named as anti-drug czar. Duterte’s presidency was notorious for the brutal drug war that killed more than 20,000 (official police figure is more than 6,000) persons.

Thankfully, Duterte shot down immediately his former aide-turned-senator’s idea, saying that it is President Marcos Jr.’s call now and he should be given “the greatest elbow room, leeway to do his job.”

Fr. Flavie does not buy the line that the Duterte administration’s murderous war against illegal drugs is much more effective than the current government’s strategy, given the recent expose of police involvement in illegal drug trafficking. “Ang mga nahuhuli nila noon ay mga nasa laylayan. Ang mga nahuhuli nila ngayon ay malalaking isda.”

(The ones they caught before were those in the low fringes of society. The ones caught now are the big fishes.)

Fr. Flavie knows the heavy toll of Duterte’s “kill, kill, kill” formula, having taken care of hundreds of orphans, widows and widowers left behind by the victims of those bloody operations.

At the time of the interview, Fr. Flavie was officiating the blessing and turnover of urns to the families of six victims at the Sacred Heart of Parish Shrine in Quezon City. The event was part of Program Paghilum (Healing), which helps widows and orphans of EJK victims in rebuilding and re-creating their lives.

Fr. Flavie blesses the urns containing the ashes of the EJK victims. Members of the victims’ families join him in prayers. Photo by Vincent Go.

Under “Project Arise,” the remains of the victims of extra-judicial killings, which are buried in apartment-tombs that are for lease for a limited period, are exhumed. Scientific autopsy is conducted as part of the families’ search for truth and justice.
The remains are then cremated, put into urns and turned over to the families. Later, the remains are laid to a permanent and dignified resting place.

The six victims remembered and blessed last March 23 were Jaime Alcover, 25; Henerciso Amper,50; Erwin Garzon, 37; Florencio Tion, 60; Jampol Barros, 26; and Pablo Cabangon, 46.

Each of those urns contains stories of pain and anguish that Program Paghilum is helping the survivors in turning them into testaments of faith and courage.

Normie Alcober, sister of the victim, remembers the midnight of Oct. 05, 2017 when they were awakened by the loud banging on their door in their house in Tondo. When they opened the door, they were confronted by armed men who ordered her and her children out of the house. Inside the house were Jaime, who was still asleep, her father, her uncle and cousins.

After a few hours, the intruders brought out two dead bodies wrapped in blankets and dumped them in the compartment of a waiting vehicle. The two bodies were those of Jaime and her uncle. Her father was jailed and was not allowed to visit Jaime’s wake.

Henerciso Amper’s partner, Nancy Imbat, said that on July 23, 2018 he told her he was going to the market to buy food. He never came back.
Nancy learned that while Henerciso was buying food someone approached him and shot him to death. This happened in Camarin, Caloocan City.
On Sept. 14, 2016, two unidentified masked men barged into the home of Erwin Garzon in Bagong Silang, also in Caloocan City, and shot him on the head. He died instantly.

His death certificate states he died of pneumonia.

Marie Tion said that on the evening of July 29, 2018, she knew her husband Florencio was having a drink with his kumpare. After a while, a neighbor told her that Florencio was shot. She brought him to the hospital where he died 20 days later.

Medarda Barros said that on March 7, 2018, her son Jampol stepped out of their house in Camarin, Caloocan City. Then she heard shots. When she went out looking for her son, she saw him lying on the ground, face down, soaked in his own blood.

Witnesses said Jampol was just sitting when two men on a motorcycle came, shot him and sped away.

Pablo Cabangon from Bagong Silangan, Quezon City was killed on December 02, 2016 and is believed to be a victim of a deplorable police practice of palit-ulo ( head exchange).

Pablo’s daughter, Princess, said the police went to someone in their community who pleaded for his life and offered to lead them to another person, who turned out to be her father.

The police barged into their home and shot Pablo on the head. They also shot her brother who luckily managed to escape.

Dutch Ambassador Marielle Geraedts, who witnessed the turnover of the remains, said she was “in awe and perplexed by the massive disruption and impact the war on drugs has had on the lives of the families.”

At the same time, she said she saw hope and inspiration from the courage of the families of the victims: “Truly, the fight for accountability and justice may be a long one, but it is one that you have all chosen to take on.”

She then shared: “For the Netherlands, we do not only believe that human rights are the cornerstone of democracy and peace, but also that lasting peace must be based on justice. There can be no justice without accountability. We believe in the value of rule of law and accountability. There must be a focus on inclusive involvement and a voice for victims at all stages of the accountability process: documentation, evidence gathering, prosecution, sentencing and redress.”

She expressed admiration for the work Fr. Flavie was doing: “You have created a caring community that gives hope amidst uncertainty and fear. And for that, we thank you for your service and leadership.”

Speaking to an eight-year-old son of one of the victims who was hugging tightly the urn containing his father’s ashes, Fr. Flavie said: “Huwag ka nang umiyak. May paglalagyan na sa kanya. Wala na diyan si Tatay. Malaya na siya ngayon sa langit.” (Don’t cry. Your father is not there anymore. He is now in heaven where he is free.)