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.)

I found good persons when I lost my cellphone

The good person. Lubert Perona of Ayala Center Security Team turning over to me my cellphone he found on the sidewalk in Ayala Center.

Something happened last week that once again affirmed my belief in the goodness of men.

It was Tuesday, May 23, when my VERA Files colleague Chin Samson and I had a meeting with a visiting German journalist, who was doing a story on the first year of the Marcos Jr. presidency, at the Mentore UCC Café, Ayala Center in Makati.

Throughout the interview, my phone was on silent mode.

We went our separate ways after. I went to the Landmark Department Store, which was just across Mentore Café, then walked to Ayala One Terminal to take the shuttle van to Las Pinas. It was about 5 p.m.

While waiting for the van to leave, I thought of checking my email. I couldn’t find my cellphone!

I got off the van and walked back to Mentore Café. The waiter said he didn’t find any cellphone when he cleared the table after we had left. The coffee shop management said it will take a few days before they could check on the CCTV and promised that they will update me. They never did.

I tried calling my number using my back-up mobile phone. It was ringing but no one was responding. Maybe because it was on silent mode. I texted and pleaded to whoever may have found it to please contact me.

Worried that it could be used for something bad, I tried calling Tarra Quismundo, Globe’s public relations manager, but she was in a meeting. I was able to immediately get through Liza Reyes, head of Globe’s public relations and communications strategy, who patiently guided me on what to do:
• Freeze the account.
• Execute an affidavit of loss.
• Go to a Globe store where a customer officer will give you the assistance you need.

I did all of those.

Losing a cellphone is upsetting not only because of the cost of the unit but also because a lot of one’s life is linked in that 168-gram thermoset plastic. Through the Grab app on my cellphone, I order food. Transport is made easier through the same app. Payments are made through G-cash. Etcetera. Cellphones have become an essential part of one’s home and office.

With the possibility that my number has been compromised, I tried to freeze and deactivate a number of those links.

Meanwhile, to manage my misery, I tried to rationalize the loss as a lesser misfortune than if I slipped and got injured, or other worse incidents. I think of others who are bearing heavier burdens calmly and courageously and I felt embarrassed by my distress.

But still, I prayed and prayed that the one who found it would be a good person and return my phone.

Past 11 p.m. on Thursday, May 25, VERA Files editor Elma Sandoval sent me a message on Facebook asking if I had lost my cell phone because Merinette Retona, head trainer of VERA Files who was in Chiangmai, Thailand, saw a message in VERA Files Facebook messenger from a certain Lubert Perona. He introduced himself as the person who found my phone and gave his phone number.

It was a miracle!

I immediately contacted him. Lubert is with the Ayala Center Security Team. He said he was on duty as a roving security guard on Tuesday afternoon when he found my phone, which was inside a red leather case, on the street in front of Mentore Café.

I surmise that when I put it inside my cross-body bag, it slipped down to the ground instead. It didn’t make a sound because it was in a case.

He said he was trying to find a way to contact me but can’t open the phone because it was locked. Until he found my calling card in the pocket of the case.

He said he turned over my phone to the Ayala Center marshal security office at the 2nd level of Park Square Steel Parking. I went there the next day and got back my phone. It was Lubert’s day off but he came to personally turn over my phone.

Of course, a big thank you is in order for Lubert.Imagine if someone not-so-honest had found it. “Ginawa ko lang po ang ‘yung tama” was all he could say in reply to my profuse thanks.

My gratitude also to the Ayala Center Security Team led by Roosevelt Battaring. And to Ayala Center General Manager Wilbert Guevarra, who apparently runs an efficient and upright team.

It was also nice meeting retired police officer Edwin Quilala, security coordinator of Ayala Center.

They declined my thank you cash gift, saying, as Lubert had said, they just did their job.

When you go through bad experiences such as this, you appreciate every bit of kindness, such as Globe’s efficiency and compassion (special mention for the staff of Globe Southmall), and Banco de Oro’s helpful customer service.

Truly, as my favorite poem, Desiderata, reminds us, “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. “

Outsmarting the scammers

A VERA Files colleague (Let’s call her “A.”), who is based in Mindanao, received a call last week from a number not listed in her contact list, asking if she knew a certain person, who happened to be another colleague (“B”) in VERA Files.

She replied “Yes” and inquired why she was asking. The caller said she was actually contacting “B” because he took a loan from their company and had listed her (“A”) as a reference person.

“A” told the caller that she is not based in Manila. The caller asked “A” to pass the message to “B” to settle his loan. “A” sensed something fishy so she immediately blocked the number and the SMS that came later.

“A” then asked “B” if he had made her as a reference for a loan and the latter said he did not.

On that same day, another colleague (“C”) received a call from a certain “Joana” of PesoBuffet, a lending company known for its high interest rates, asking if he knew a person named Raymond (“C” couldn’t recall the surname.). She said they couldn’t contact him and the name of “C” was one of those listed by Raymond to call if he is not available.

“C” said the caller was polite and even apologized for bothering him with the inquiry.

“C” does not exactly consider it a scam but he was still alarmed because someone used his phone number.

“Either some malicious app managed to access my mobile device or someone got it from the countless contact tracing forms that I have filled up,” he said.

We learned later that the phone of “B” was hacked and those scam agents must have gotten their numbers from there.

“A,” who is our tech gal, said one way that our numbers are accessed by scammers is through the apps that we install in our smartphone.

She said: “When we install apps in our smartphone, it usually asks permission to access our phone’s contacts, media, storage and what not. Usually, you don’t really have a choice because you can’t install the app if you don’t give permission to those items, so just be cautious.

“If the app is asking for permissions not significant to the apps’ function, then don’t give permission. If it’s necessary, just give permission while the app is being used. If the app is not so important better not install.

“If you’re installing a game and it asks access to your contacts– then it’s quite suspicious– better not install the game.

“Be discriminating. Only install apps from your smartphone’s app installer and not from a link of a promotion/ad you saw in your social media feed. Only install apps developed by reputable or legitimate institutions. When you search for the app to install– look at who developed the app, the logo and a badge that it’s recommended or editor’s pick — to check if they’re legitimate.”

“A” suggests installing an antivirus. Upon her recommendation, I installed Bitdefender Mobile Security free version on my phone.

She said: “An antivirus installed on your smartphone is a layer of security, but still your personal practice– how you use your smartphone– is the one that matters and the one that will give you security and protection.”

Another target of scammers are bank accounts and credit cards. I have received calls purportedly offering to assist me in updating my bank accounts. I just dismiss them as scammers or reply to them that they should stop their illegal operation.

Security Bank gives these tips to its clients:

• Be skeptical when you receive messages from any sender. Security Bank will never ask for your OTP, CVV, and PIN via call, text or email.

• Ask questions and probe further. Fraudsters are trained to sound very convincing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to verify the legitimacy of a call.

• Scrutinize emails and text messages received. It helps to pay close attention to messages you receive. Check for grammar or spacing errors.

BDO has almost the same advice:

• Do not share username, password, OTP and card details (card number, expiry date and CVV.)

• Do not click links. BDO will not send links via email, SMS and Viber.

• Do not reply to suspicious senders. Visit the BDO website and search for “BDOStopScam” to view all official BDO sender names.

Stay vigilant.

This column was carried also by VERA Files.